Planning Without God Results in Godless Outcomes.

But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael the son of Nethaniah. They came upon him at the great pool that is in Gibeon. And when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him, they rejoiced. So all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites. Then Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, after he had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Jeremiah 41:11-18 ESV

If you recall, at the close of chapter 40, there was an encounter between Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah and Johanan son of Kareah. Johanan and some other military leaders had come to warn Gedaliah of a plot on his life.

“Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” But Gedaliah refused to believe them. – Jeremiah 40:14 NLT

Johanan warned and Gedaliah ignored. And within days, Gedaliah was dead, murdered by Ishmael. But Johanan, rather than simply walk away with an I-told-you-so attitude, decides to avenge the death of Gedaliah and rescue all those Ishmael had taken captive. Johanan and his troops catch up to Ishmael at a watering spot near the town of Gibeon. We’re not told why Ishmael took this route, and it was not exactly a direct route to Ammon, where he was headed. But regardless of his motivation, Ishmael’s plans took him to Gibeon, where Johanah and his troops surprised them. Immediately, the people who had been taken captive by Ishmael turn on him and begin fighting alongside Johanan and his men. In the midst of all the chaos, Ishmael and eight of his men escape. But Johanan sets the captives free and takes them with him “to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt” (Jeremiah 41:17 NLT).

This last statement is significant. Johanan had already made plans for he and his troops to escape to Egypt. And now, he decides to have the recently rescued citizens of Mizpah join them. But where did he get this idea from? Why had he determined to make his way to Egypt? It would seem that he feared what King Nebuchadnezzar would do when he found out that the governor he had appointed over Judah had been murdered, along with some Babylonian soldiers. Johanan knew that the king of Babylon was not going to look kindly on this act of abject rebellion against his authority. So, rather than wait around to see what Nebuchadnezzar might do, Johanan decided to seek refuge from Egypt, a supposed ally of Judah. But notice what is missing. There is no indication that Johanan received a word from God to go to Egypt. This does not appear to be a divinely ordained plan. And any plan that lacks God’s blessing is ultimately doomed to failure.

This brings to mind another journey to Egypt made by Abraham and his wife, Sarah. There little trip was due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Abraham made the call to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt where they might find food and water. But again, there is no indication that God had given His blessing on this trip. And it ended up with Sarah nearly being guilty of have adultery with the the Pharaoh. It was only because God struck Pharaoh and his household with disease that this whole affair didn’t end up being a total disaster. Pharaoh discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife and angrily confronted Abraham for deceiving him. But rather than kill Abraham, he returns his wife to him and expels them from Egypt.

What about David? Do you recall the time he was attempting to escape from King Saul and decided to escape to Gath? This whole story has a what-were-you-thinking aspect to it. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the great warrior who David had killed. And to top it all off, David had stopped at the city of Nob to get food and provisions. While there, he had taken the sword of Goliath that was stored there for safe keeping. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the head of Goliath. So, David, the killer of the Philistine champion, shows up in Goliath’s hometown, wearing Goliath’s sword on his belt. And the Philistines can’t believe their eyes. The Philistine military commanders are highly suspicious.

But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” – 1 Samuel 21:11 NLT

Waking up to his senses, David immediately realized the stupidity of his decision and came up with the desperate idea to feign insanity – literally.

David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. – 1 Samuel 21:12-13 NLT

It worked. They let David go. But his trip almost cost him his life. And his stop in Nob would end up resulting in the deaths of the priests who lived there. When King Saul caught wind that they had assisted David in his escape he had them slaughtered.

So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. – 1 Samuel 22:18-19 NLT

None of this had been God’s plan. He had never sanctioned this little trip to Gath with a side stop in Nob. And because it was out of His will, it ended up resulting in needless suffering and death.

So, here we have Johanan leading a group of people to Egypt. He has not received a direct word from God. He has not heard anything from the prophet of God. It appears that he made his decision based on nothing more than fear and human reason – the very same motivating factors behind Abraham’s trip to Egypt and David’s journey to Gath. Making plans apart from God’s will can be life-threatening; not just to us, but to all those around us. But we all have a nasty way of coming up with our own Egypts and Gaths. We find ourselves in trouble and then start looking for somewhere to run or hide. We look for a way out, a way of escape. But unless that way comes from the Lord, it will always end up creating problems, not solving them. Now, you might say that Abraham ended up leaving Egypt loaded with gifts from Pharaoh. The passage in Genesis clearly states:

So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:15-16 NLT

And when Abraham left Egypt, it clearly tells us:

Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions. – Genesis 12:20 NLT

Abraham left wealthier than he had arrived. And the very next chapter reinforces this idea.

So Abram went up from Egypt into the Negev. He took his wife and all his possessions with him, as well as Lot. (Now Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold.)…

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another. So there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. – Genesis 13:1-2, 5-7 NLT

What appears to be good fortune as a result of his non-God-sanctioned trip to Egypt, turned out to be nothing but a headache over time. The “blessings” he got for heading to Egypt without God’s approval would prove to be curses. His abundance of flocks led to disunity between he and his nephew Lot. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land to occupy so they could part ways, Lot took the best land. Then, before long, Lot ended up moving to Sodom. And, eventually, Abraham would be forced to rescue Lot when he was captured along with the other citizens of Sodom. All because Abraham had gone to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and received an extravagant dowry from Pharaoh so he could have Sarah as his wife. Our best plans apart from God’s blessing and direction are futile and will prove fruitless. And Johanan’s plan would prove to be no less so.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Temporary Insanity.

And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”

And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” – 1 Samuel 21:10-15 ESV

The question that should immediately come into your mind when reading these verses is, “What was David thinking?” There seems to be nothing rational or logical in his behavior. Why in the world would David, the very man who killed Goliath, who was from Gath, choose to seek refuge in Gath, and while carrying the sword that once belonged to Goliath? What kind of flawed logic did David use to think that he would be welcomed with open arms? After all, it was David who, in an act of over-achievement, killed 200 Philistines in order to obtain the 100 foreskins Saul had demanded as a dowry for his daughter, Michal. It was David who had served as a commander in Saul’s forces and had won great victories over the Philistines. So what would possess him to think they would provide him with refuge? From what we know of David’s faithfulness to God and his hatred of the enemies of God, it seems quite unlikely that David had gone to Gath to offer his services as a warrior to king Achish. In other words, David was not considering switching sides and fighting for the Philistines against his own people. So why did he go? The text does not tell us. We can only conjecture that David was desperate to get away from Saul and any troops that may be out to seek him. He knew that the last place Saul would look for him was in the land of the Philistines. But David didn’t think his strategy through all the way. He made a rash decision, under duress, and now found himself in a very dangerous spot.

The Philistines immediately recognized David. It’s interesting to note that they referred to David as “the king of the land” (1 Samuel 21:11 ESV). They had heard about the songs sung about David, that celebrated his military exploits and lauded him as greater than Saul. It is doubtful that they had heard about David’s anointing, but they most likely viewed David as the true leader of the Israelites. At the affair in the Valley of Elah, Goliath had challenged Saul and his men to send a champion to face him in hand-to-hand combat, but no one would step forward. Day after day he taunted them, but Saul remained in the background, afraid to take up the challenge and take on Goliath. At that moment, the Philistines most likely lost all respect for Saul as a king, and when David ended up slaying Goliath, they saw him as the true king of Israel. But whatever the case, they knew that the man standing before them was an enemy and a threat.

The text rather of matter-of-factly states, “And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath” (1 Samuel 21:12 ESV). It was as if David woke up from a bad dream and realized the gravity of his situation. The stupidity of his decision to go to Gath suddenly dawned on him and he was “much afraid.” He was petrified, terrified, and mortified that he had ever come up with this doomed plan in the first place. So, finding himself in a jam, David resorted to deceit. Here was the man who had killed Goliath, defeated hundreds of Philistines in battle, slaughtered 200 Philistines just to pay the dowry for his wife, and who was carrying the sword of his Goliath in his hand, and yet he chose to feign madness rather than trust God and fight his enemies. David somehow forgot all about his anointing and the fact that God had been by his side during all the conflicts of his life. The young man who once shouted, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:27 ESV), and then took the life of Goliath with nothing more than a sling and a stone, was now so fearful in the face of his enemies, that he resorted to acting like a madman. The Message paraphrases verse 13 this way: “So right there, while they were looking at him, he pretended to go crazy, pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard.”

What a scene. What a sad situation for the future king of Israel to find himself in. This is the same David who would later write:

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me. – Psalm 144:1-2 ESV

He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
– Psalm 18:34 ESV

This ill-timed, poorly conceived plan of David would be used by God to teach His young king-in-waiting an invaluable lesson in faith. David would learn, in the future, to place his trust in God rather than his own rash plans and flawed attempts at self-preservation. David would escape with his life, if not his dignity. He would not forget that day. In fact, he ended up penning the words of Psalm 34 as a result of this encounter with King Achish.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
    He freed me from all my fears.
– Psalm 34:4 NLT

In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
    he saved me from all my troubles.Psalm 34:6 NLT

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
    He rescues them from all their troubles. – Psalm 34:17 NLT

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous;
    not one of them is broken! – Psalm 34:19-20 NLT

It is interesting to read these statements in light of what actually happened that day. There is no indication that God intervened. David didn’t take the sword of Goliath and slaughter King Achish and all his soldiers. There was no lightning bolt from heaven that struck down the Philistines and allowed David to walk away safe and secure. There is no mention of any miraculous intervention on God’s part. What really happened was that David resorted to acting like a madman, complete with drool dripping from his beard. Faced with the prospect of death, David had taken matters into his own hands and escaped with his life because he was willing to throw away any sense of pride or dignity he had. And yet, when looking back on that day, David saw his rescue as having come from God. In spite of his actions, God had rescued him. While he had run from the land of God to the land of the enemies of God had remained with him. Even at one of his worst moments, God had not abandoned him. Regardless of how badly David’s poor attempt at self-preservation had turned out, God is the one who rescued David from himself. And that is what God does for His own. God had said David would be the next king of Israel, and he would be. Even David, at his worst moment, couldn’t screw up God’s plan. He could make things harder on himself, but nothing he did would make it too hard for God to fulfill His divine plan for him. Even our bouts of temporary insanity cannot prevent the future fulfillment of God’s plans for us.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Man On the Run.

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.

Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord. His name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen.

Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.” – 1 Samuel 21:1-9 ESV

The next ten chapters of the book of 1st Samuel will chronicle the life of David as he spends the next years of his life running from King Saul. Having received the news from Jonathan that Saul was out to kill him, David made his way to Nob, which was about two and one-half miles southeast of Gibeah. There, he sought out Ahimelech, the high priest. David was running out of options. He could no longer go home. His relationship with Samuel, the prophet, had reached an end. David most likely knew that turning to Samuel was the worst thing he could do, because that would be what Saul expected, and so Samuel would be under surveillance. David had said his final goodbyes to Jonathan, knowing that they would probably never see one another again. So, in need of food and shelter, David turned to the high priest.

His arrival at Nob caught Ahimelech off guard. He was surprised and a bit scared to see David arrive by himself, without his usual allotment of troops. It seems that Saul’s volatile nature was well-known and justly feared. Ahimelech jumped to the conclusion that David had showed up as an agent sent by Saul to wreak havoc on the priests of God. This would ultimately prove not to be a farfetched idea. Because in the very next chapter, we will see Saul command the execution of every single priest in Nob because ended up aiding and abetting David (1 Samuel 22:6-23).

David assured Ahimelech that he was not there to do them harm. He lied to the high priest, assuring him that he was on a top-secret mission for the king, the nature of which he was not free to divulge. This deception was used to obtain food and to keep the high priest from asking further questions. It also reveals a certain sense of fear and lack of trust on David’s part. He was not yet willing, ready and able to put all his reliance upon God. He was in a tight spot and was willing to lie in order to preserve his own life. As time went by and David began to see God’s miraculous provision and protection, he would grow increasingly more confident in God’s capacity to care for his every need. But at this point in the story, David was fairly new at this whole fugitive lifestyle, and was simply doing whatever he had to do to stay alive.

When David asked Ahimelech for bread, the only thing the high priest had available was the showbread that was put on display in the tabernacle as part of a weekly sacrifice to God. The book of Leviticus provides us with important details regarding the showbread. It was to be changed out weekly, and the old bread was to serve as food for the priests. But they must eat it in a holy place and only while in a purified state. It was considered holy.

“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord‘s food offerings, a perpetual due.” – Leviticus 24:5-9 ESV

Ahimlech’s reticence to share the bread with David and “his men” was based on the requirement that the bread was holy and not to be eaten by anyone who was impure. David was able to assure that his soldiers were ceremonially pure because there were no soldiers to begin with. David was alone. And he had not had sexual relations with Michal that day, because he had been forced to leave her several days prior. David took the bread and, according to Jesus, he was not wrong in doing so.

“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” – Matthew 12:3-4 ESV

Jesus referred back to this historical, real-life event, comparing what David did with the disciples eating the heads of wheat on the sabbath. The Pharisees, with their legalistic mindset, had accused them of “harvesting” on the sabbath. For Jesus, the actions of the disciples were justified because they were simply meeting the normal human need to eat. Jesus used the same reasoning on another occasion, when He said to the Pharisees, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12 NLT). According to Jesus, David was simply trying to stay alive, so his actions were necessary and, therefore, justified.

But what David didn’t know was that his actions were being observed by someone who was on Saul’s payroll, Doeg, the Edomite. This man was the in charge of all of Saul’s flocks. It may be that Doeg had it in for David, because he was jealous of his success. After all, David had started out as a shepherd, but risen to a place of power and prominence in the king’s court, and had even married into the king’s family. Perhaps Doeg hoped that by ratting on David, he would be elevated up the royal food chain and move from the pasture to the palace. But regardless of his intent, Doeg would make his way to Saul with news about his enemy’s presence in Nob. David’s respite would prove brief and the role Ahimelech played in helping David would prove deadly.

Having been forced to leave Gibeah in a hurry, David was unarmed and defenseless. So he inquired of Ahimelech whether there were any weapons in the priestly compound. It just so happened that the sword of Goliath, the Philistine champion whom David had killed in hand-to-hand-combat, was in the tabernacle wrapped in a priestly robe. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the giant’s head. David, having retrieved the sword, and with his five loaves of ceremonial showbread, said his goodbyes to Ahimelech and began what was going to be a long and difficult period of running, hiding, and learning to trust in God. In the years that lie ahead, David would find himself experiencing a wide range of life lessons that would increase his faith in God and strengthen his resolve to serve God faithfully. The king David would eventually become was the byproduct of the trials and tribulations of this less-than-pleasant phase of his life. For David, the phrase, “no pain, no gain” could have been the tagline for his life. He would find that persecution would have to precede his coronation. Years of suffering would come before his crowning. The daily experience of loss and pain would preface his eventual reign.

Years later, when David had finally experienced release from Saul’s dogged pursuit and had been crowned the king of Israel, he was able to write:

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies. – Psalm 18:1-3 ESV

A King to Come.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.

As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” And the king said, “Inquire whose son the boy is.” And as soon as David returned from the striking down 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 are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” – 1 Samuel 17:50-58 ESV

David had just conquered the enemy of the Lord. He had slain Goliath and cut off the giant’s head with his own sword. As a result, the Philistines ran rather than face the prospect of becoming slaves to their much-hated enemies, the Jews. It had been Goliath who had set the conditions for the battle, guaranteeing the enslavement of the army of the losing combatant; but his troops, never expecting him to lose, were unwilling to keep the terms he had established. They turned and ran. But David’s unexpected victory gave the troops of Israel new life and the boldness to pursue the Philistines, all the way back to Goliath’s home town. One man’s faith in God had revealed the power of God, and provided the people of God with the incentive they needed to fight the enemies of God.

David, fresh off his victory, still carrying the severed head of Goliath in his hand, was brought before King Saul. It seems that, while David was already in the employment of Saul, acting as his armor bearer and court musician, the king knew little about him. Neither Saul or his commander, Abner, knew who David’s father was. Which is interesting, because chapter 16 makes it quite clear that Saul had been well-informed about David before he conscripted him into service.

One of the servants said to Saul, “One of Jesse’s sons from Bethlehem is a talented harp player. Not only that—he is a brave warrior, a man of war, and has good judgment. He is also a fine-looking young man, and the Lord is with him.”

So Saul sent messengers to Jesse to say, “Send me your son David, the shepherd.” Jesse responded by sending David to Saul, along with a young goat, a donkey loaded with bread, and a wineskin full of wine. – 1 Samuel 16:18-19 NLT

But enough time had passed so that Saul had forgotten all about how David had come into his service. And it would seem that Saul was not in the habit of concerning himself with the life details of the men who he forced into service as his soldiers. God had warned the people of Israel just what kind of king Saul would become.

The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. – 1 Samuel 8:11-13 NLT

So it’s not surprising that Saul had no idea who David really was. But it was important that he learn the name of David’s father so that he could fulfill his promise of the reward.

The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes! – 1 Samuel 17:25 NLT

When Saul asked David who his father was, he responded, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite” (1 Samuel 17:58 ESV). In answering Saul’s question, David was revealing something even more significant. This young shepherd boy was from the village of Bethlehem. This somewhat obscure and insignificant spot on the map would one day become the most important destination in the world. It is there that the future Messiah of the Jews would be born.

And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. – Luke 2:4 NLT

The prophet Micah prophesied regarding the village of Bethlehem:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. – Micah 5:2 ESV

While David’s defeat of Goliath seems to be the central focus of the story, there is far more going on than initially meets the eye. God is actually paving the way for a much greater victory over a much greater enemy. He is setting the stage for not only David’s kingship, but also that of His Son, the future Messiah and the King of kings and Lord of lords. David slew one man and provided his people with temporary relief from slavery. But Jesus Christ would defeat sin and death, providing men and women with the means by which they might be free from slavery to both. David’s victory breathed new life into the Israelite army. But the victory accomplished by Jesus brought eternal life to all those who place their faith in Him. David defeated Goliath. Jesus defeated Satan. David’s victory was temporary. Jesus’ victory was permanent. The victory David accomplished required the life of a Philistine. The victory Jesus accomplished required His own life. Goliath died for his own sins, having defied the armies of the living God. Jesus died for the sins of others, so that He might become the propitiate or satisfy the just demands of a holy God.

The story surrounding the life of David is intended to foreshadow and point towards the life of Jesus. The young shepherd boy from Bethlehem serves as a representation of the Good Shepherd who was to come.

David was about to find out that his victory, while good news to many, was going to end up creating bad news for him. His conquering of the giant, Goliath, was going to make him a household name and a hero among the people of Israel. And his growing reputation was going to result in a growing rift between he and King Saul. David’s greatest conflicts were ahead of him, not behind him. And his most formidable enemy would prove to be none other than the king of Israel, Saul himself. David’s victory would produce in Saul a growing jealousy, resentment and animosity.

The Battle Is the Lord’s.

And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds 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 that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. – 1 Samuel 17:41-49 ESV

As usual, it would be so easy to make this passage about David. And while he is the central character of the narrative, he is far from the central focus. Even David himself will not allow us to make him the leading man. He goes out of his way to place the attention where it rightly belongs: On God. Repeatedly, the author, Samuel, draws the reader’s attention to the word’s of David as he stands to face the giant, Goliath:

“I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” – 1 Samuel 17:45 NLT

Today the Lord will conquer you…” – 1 Samuel 17:46a NLT

“…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! – 1 Samuel 17:46b NLT

And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people…” – 1 Samuel 17:47a NLT

This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us! – 1 Samuel 17:47b NLT

It is so easy for us to focus on David, his sling and the five smooth stones. We could even spend time trying to conjecture why he chose fives stones when only one was needed. Was this a sign of a lack of faith? But while the details provided to us by Samuel are important, we should not allow them to overshadow what is going on in the narrative. David, the man after God’s own heart, who has been anointed to be the next king of Israel, has stepped into a situation where he has found the armies of Israel in an awkward stalemate with the Philistines. They have been offered a challenge by the Philistine champion to send out a warrior to do battle with him, man to man. But Saul, who has been rejected by God as king, is gripped by fear and unwilling to do what needs to be done. He has no faith – in himself or His God. And his lack of faith in God was not a recent development. Early on in Saul’s reign, Samuel had warned the people of Israel:

“And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.” – 1 Samuel 12:12-15 ESV

Several years later, Saul found himself in a predicament. The Philistines had gathered to do battle with the Israelites – “thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude” (1 Samuel 13:5 ESV). And his “crack” troops scattered when the heard the news. “When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (1 Samuel 13:6 ESV). The soldiers who remained with Saul were petrified at the prospect of having to face the Philistines. And this was after Jonathan, Saul’s son, had just defeated the Philistines in a battle.

Saul had been instructed by Samuel to go to Gilgal and to wait seven days. On the seventh day, Saul became anxious because the prophet had not shown up, so he decided to do the prophet’s job and offer a burnt offering to God. But as soon as he had done so, Samuel arrived and expressed his anger with Saul at his impetuosity and disobedience.

You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV

Saul lacked faith in God. When confronted with a desperate situation, he took matters into his own hands. Yes, he offered a sacrifice to God, but he did more out of a sense of superstition or as a form of good luck than anything else. Like rubbing a rabbit’s foot, Saul hoping that offering a burnt offering to God would somehow obligate Him to provide victory. But notice the different between his actions and those of David. He faced the very same enemy: The Philistines. And he was greatly out-manned, a shepherd boy facing a well-trained Philistine champion. But unlike Saul, David was fully confident in the face of overwhelming odds because he wasn’t focusing on himself, but on God. This wasn’t going to be his battle, but God’s. And the victory that was coming would not be his doing, but God’s. The Philistines were not his enemies, but God’s. And the taunts and jeers of Goliath weren’t really directed at David, but against God. Whether he realized it or not, Goliath had defied the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. And now he was going to have to face the consequences.

The real lesson here is that the battle between the enemies of God and the people of God is always the Lord’s battle. Yes, we may have to get involved, but our participation is not what guarantees the victory. David’s sling and stone were used by God to defeat Goliath, but they were not the primary cause of victory. God was. And He always is.

When the people of Judah had faced the Moabites and Ammonites, God had said to them:

“Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. – 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 ESV

Years later, when the people of Judah faced the Assyrians, King Hezekiah encouraged them with these words:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” – 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 ESV

David understood that this was far more than just another battle. They were being confronted by the enemies of God and, as the people of God, they had an obligation to place their faith in the superiority of the Lord of Heavens Armies. This wasn’t about a shepherd boy facing a well-armed, well-trained soldier. This was about the God of Israel doing battle with those who would defy His name and His honor. And David had all the confidence in the world that his God could snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat with a shepherd boy, a sling and a few smooth stones.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Lord Will Deliver.

When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine. – 1 Samuel 17:31-40 ESV

For most of us, the story of David and Goliath has become little more than a motivational lesson used to conjure up images of facing the giants in our lives. Like David, we can stand up against the formidable foes we face and come out victorious – as long as we have faith. And while there may be aspects of this story that can be used to encourage our personal faith and motivate us to stand up to the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our lives, I don’t think that was intended as the primary takeaway. We must read this story while keeping it in its appropriate context. It is when we isolate biblical narratives and remove them from their context that we run the risk of arriving at interpretations that fail to meet the author’s original intentions. This is a story about God and the people of Israel. They have had a less-than-stellar relationship with the God who chose them out of all the other nations of the world. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had faithfully led them through the wilderness. He had given them the land of Canaan just as he had promised. But they had failed to eliminate all the nations that occupied the land. As a result they were surrounded by hostile enemies who not only attempted to eliminate them, but were highly successful in negatively influencing their faithfulness to God by causing them to worship false gods.

The period of the judges, which followed their occupation of the land, was a time of turmoil, marked by their constant unfaithfulness, God’s punishment, their eventual remorse and God’s sending of a judge to deliver them. This cycle repeated itself over and over again. Then it ended with the people demanding that God give them a king just like all the other nations. So God gave them Saul. He fit the bill. He met the requirements they had asked for. And he proved to be not only a lousy king, but an unfaithful and disobedient one. So God determined to replace him with a man after His own heart. He chose David, a young shepherd boy. And the story of David and Goliath is the first glimpse we are given of this young man’s faith and the stark contrast it provides to the unfaithfulness of Saul.

The call of the Philistine champion that the Israelites send out a man to face him is a direct challenge to King Saul. He has clearly indicated that the soldiers in Saul’s army are nothing more than his slaves or bondservants. They have drafted into military service just as God had warned they would be (1 Samuel 8:11-13). Goliath is challenging Saul to a winner-take-all, one-on-one face-off. But Saul is cowering far from the front lines, unwilling to take on the giant. In fact, he has offered an attractive reward to anyone who will step up and take on the challenge. But there have been no takers.

Until David arrives on the scene. As Saul’s armor bearer, he had direct access to the king and was able to tell him to his face, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:32 ESV). Saul attempted to dissuade David, reminding him that he was no match for this veteran warrior. But David simply recounted his own exploits while serving as a shepherd over his father’s flocks.

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV

The issue for David was one of doing the right thing. As a shepherd, it was his duty to protect the flock and he was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill his responsibility. Why would these situation be any different? This uncircumcised Philistine was defying the armies of the living God. He was treating the king of Israel, and therefore the God of Israel, with disrespect. In David’s mind, this had nothing to do with the size of the foe or the odds against victory. It was about doing the right thing. Someone had to stand up to the enemy of God. And if no one else was willing, David would do it. And he would do it in the strength of the Lord. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV).

Saul reluctantly agreed, telling David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV). And then he came up with a plan. He would dress David in his own armor in the hopes that this might fool the Philistines into thinking that the king of Israel had finally agreed to do battle with their champion. In the unlikely case that David won, the glory would go to Saul. Should he lose, it would be easy for Saul, without his armor, to disappear into the crowd and not be humiliated as the defeated king of Israel.

But Saul’s armor was much too large for David and he removed it. He would face Goliath with the very same weapons with which he had faced the lion and the bear: A sling and a few stones. His real weapon was God Himself. Remember what he had told Saul: “The Lord … will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” To David, Goliath was nothing more than another enemy of God. He doesn’t mention his height or the weight of his weapons. He didn’t dwell on size of the task or the odds against his victory. He simply recognized an enemy of the living God and the need for someone to do something about him.

Goliath represented an enemy of God, not David. This Philistine had done nothing to David. He didn’t stand as a personal problem or insurmountable obstacle in the young shepherd boy’s life. Goliath is presented in the story as the epitome of the ungodly and unrighteous enemy of God and His people. He is formidable and seemingly invincible. He is loud and brash. He questions the bravery of God’s people and the power of God Himself. He is self-assured and confident of his victory. He sees Saul as a coward and the people of God as nothing more than slaves of their king. So he taunts and ridicules them. And they take it, day after day.

But not David. He is a man after God’s own heart, and as such, he is unwilling to sit back and listen to this Philistine beat his gums and demean the honor of God’s name. He fully believed that the living God of Israel was fully capable of bringing victory over Goliath and that He could and would do it through him.


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Riches Versus Reproach.

Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.” And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”

Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before. – 1 Samuel 17:19-30 ESV

For 40 days, the Israelite and Philistine armies had been a standoff, as each day the Philistine champion, Goliath made his way to the front lines and taunted the Israelites to send out their challenger. He continued to propose a simple solution to their conflict: A man-t0-man fight between the greatest Israelite warrior and himself. The only problem was that the Israelites, should they agree to his conditions and their champion lose, would become the slaves of the Philistines. Oh, and then there was the other problem that Goliath just happened to be huge. Based on the numbers in the text, he would have been over nine feet tall. Samuel, the author of the book, spends a great deal of time providing details regarding Goliath’s vitals.

He was over nine feet tall! He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield. – 1 Samuel 17:4-7 NLT

While there is debate over the validity of the numbers involved in Samuel’s description and doubt among some theologians as to the exact height of Goliath, it is safe to say that he was most likely a very large individual and a formidable foe. Each and every time he stood before the Israelites and issued his challenge, they reacted in the same way: “All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid” (1 Samuel 17:24 ESV).

David arrived on the scene just in time to witness this daily event, and he was shocked. When he asked those around him what was going on, he was informed that there had been a reward issued by King Saul for the man who would dare stand against Goliath and defeat him.

The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes! – 1 Samuel 17:25 NLT

Talk about incentive. But no one was taking Saul up on his offer. While the reward was great, it had proved not enough incentive to entice anyone to risk life and limb against Goliath. But David saw things a bit differently. The riches offered by the king were secondary to him. The real issue was the honor of Israel and, by extension, God’s reputation.

What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? – 1 Samuel 17:26 NLT

They were the people of God. They had God Almighty on their side. David could not believe that they could stand there day after day and allow this uncircumcised pagan to taunt them and their God. Their fear was proof of their lack of faith in God. Their failure to fight was evidence of their limited view of God.

But there is an interesting thing going on in this scene that can be easily overlooked. The men who were part of the armies of Israel were there unwillingly. They had been conscripted by Saul. He had formed his armies by enforcing a mandatory draft. And God had warned the Israelites that this was going to happen when they had demanded that He give them king just like all the other nations. In giving them exactly what they asked for, God had told the Israelites:

“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-13 NLT

Even Goliath recognized what was going on. When he issued his challenge, he was very specific in how he addressed the troops of Israel.

“Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul.” – 1 Samuel 17:8 NLT

In questioning why they were all there, Goliath was appealing to their own feelings of regret and anger at having to be forced into the king’s service. These were not professional soldiers. And Goliath refers to them as “servants” of Saul. The Hebrew word he used is `ebed and it was commonly used to refer to one who was the slave of another. His use of this word was intended to cause the Israelites to turn on Saul, their commander, and to force him to step up and do what needed to be done. This was his battle, not theirs. And in demanding that the Israelites choose one man to come out and fight him, he was actually challenging Saul. And Saul knew full well that the daily taunts of Goliath were aimed at him. Which will explain why Saul will attempt to get David to wear his armor when he goes out to face Goliath. In the off chance that David should win, it might appear that Goliath was defeated by Saul. And if David should lose, it left Saul without his armor and free to blend into the troops when the Philistine came to find him.

But even Saul could find no incentive to face the giant, Goliath. His own personal reputation was not enough to make him risk life and limb by standing up to the Philistine champion. Even Eliab, David’s oldest brother, was angered to see him there. He jumped all over David, accusing him of neglecting the flocks and his duties just so he could witness the battle. But Eliab’s emotional outburst was most likely driven by the embarrassment he felt at his own fear and failure to face the champion. His youngest brother was witnessing his own spinelessness firsthand. But even this was not enough to make Eliab step forward and face Goliath. From the king down to the cooks, no one was willing to fight Goliath. No one could find the motivation to do what appeared to be the impossible. But David would. And his motivation would not be the reward offered by Saul, but the reproach issued by this uncircumcised Philistine, this enemy of the armies of the living God.

David’s view of God as alive and active would become a recurring theme in his psalms. His God was not distant and disconnected from everyday life, but actively involved.

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation. – Psalm 18:46 ESV

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. – Psalm 42:2 ESV

David’s God was living, not dead. His God was active, not absent. His God’s power was greater than that of the Philistines or even that of their champion. David was about to prove that what was missing in this scenario was not a powerful man to defeat Goliath, but a faithful man who believed in the power of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When the Least-Expected Does the Unexpected.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.” – 1 Samuel 17:1-18 ESV

The exact timeline of the story of David can be a bit difficult to piece together. Samuel, who wrote the book that bears his name, seems to have been less interested in providing a precise chronological outline of David’s life than he was of highlighting the details of how he came to be king. A case is point is the reference to David found in chapter 16. It was made by one of King Saul’s servants when the king began to suffer the effects of the harmful spirit placed upon him by God.

Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” – 1 Samuel 16:18 ESV

He refers to David as a man of valor and a man of war. But the last reference we have of David is that of his anointing by Samuel. Immediately after that event, David is said to have returned to his sheep. And with David being the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, it is believed that he could have been no older than 15 at the time of his anointing by Samuel. So when did he become a man of valor and war? It would seem that some significant time has passed since David’s anointing – enough time for him to grow up and join the army of Israel. He must have gained some experience in battle to have earned the reputation as “a brave warrior, a man of war” (NLT). But regardless of how much time has passed, one thing remained unchanged about David: …the Lord was with him (1 Samuel 16:18). David had the Spirit of God resting upon him. He had the power and the presence of God available to him. His anointing with oil by Samuel made his selection by God to be Israel’s next king official, but it was his anointing with the Holy Spirit that would make him fit for the office of king.

It is interesting to note that when Saul sent for David, he was found back with the sheep. So whatever deeds of valor and bravery he had done must have been done on the side or as a result of his responsibilities as a shepherd. Later on in the story, David himself will recount to King Saul a few examples of his exploits in the field caring for the sheep. It seems that it wasn’t as safe an occupation as one might thing.

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears…” – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV

But back to our timeline. David had been hired by the king and given the responsibility to minister to Saul when he experienced the fits brought on by the “harmful spirit.” He was also made the king’s armor bearer. Which presents another interesting issue. When chapter 17 opens, the Israelites are preparing to do battle with the Philistines. And while King Saul is there with all his troops, David, his armor bearer, is not. He was at home tending the flocks. The text tells us that “David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:15 ESV). It seems that David was pulling double-duty, balancing the demands of a bi-vocational lifestyle that required him to split his time between his responsibilities as a shepherd of sheep and a servant to the king.

It is essential to keep in mind that, all during this time, David was the God-appointed and Holy Spirit-anointed successor to King Saul. And yet, here he was dividing his time between tending sheep and plucking out tunes on his lyre in order to calm the heart of the current king of Israel. Saul was still on the throne and tasked with the responsibility of defending the nation of Israel from their enemies. But he was ill-equipped for the job. He no longer enjoyed the anointing of God’s Spirit. He had all the physical attributes to make him “a brave warrior, a man of war,” but when Goliath challenged the armies of Israel to send out a champion to fight him, Saul and his troops were “dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11 ESV).

Samuel’s interest is not so much in establishing an exact chronology of the events as he is in creating a stark contrast between the warrior-king and the shepherd-servant. With the introduction into the story line of Goliath and the Philistines, Samuel reminds his readers that there is something far more significant going on here than just who will sit on the throne of Israel. This is about the future well-being of the people of God. The king of Israel was to be much more than a figure head. He was to be the leader of God’s people, providing them with physical protection and spiritual direction. He was to be a man after God’s own heart, who listened well, followed instructions obediently, and protected God’s people faithfully. Saul was tormented by a spirit that attacked him relentlessly, leaving him unable to do his job as king. Goliath represents a physical manifestation of that same spirit, tormenting the people of God and creating in them fear and dismay. They stood before their enemy leaderless and helpless. They had to suffer his daily taunts and jeers, unable to do anything about it. He demanded that they send one man who would be willing to face him a winner-takes-all match. But no one stepped forward. Nobody had the guts to face the Philistine champion and keep God’s people from becoming their slaves.

The stage was set. Saul, the king, stood immobilized and paralyzed by fear. But all of that was about to change, when the Lord’s anointed stepped onto the scene. David, the sheep-tending, lyre-playing, armor-bearing, food-delivering son of Jesse was about to provide an unforgettable lesson in faith and godly leadership. The least-expected was going to do the unexpected. The sheep-tender was about to become the giant-killer.

The Joy of Salvation.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. – Psalm 51:12-13 ESV

Psalm 51

David had experienced the joy of God’s salvation on more than one occasion in his life. He had known what it was like to have God step into his circumstances and perform a miracle of deliverance. Now he was asking God to do it yet again. The NET Bible translates verse 12 this way: “Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance!” David had had a front-row seat when God delivered him from the giant Goliath; his own king and employer, Saul; and on numerous occasions from the Philistines. David knew what it was like to be in a difficult spot and then to have God do the seemingly impossible. He also knew the joy that always followed those events. There was nothing like watching God work and realizing just how much he loved and cared for him. He was not alone. He was not defenseless or helpless, no matter what his circumstances might say otherwise. God was good and far greater than any individual or incident. So David asked God to restore to him the joy that accompanies God’s salvation. He wanted to experience the incomparable euphoria that comes from knowing that the God of the universe has been your deliverer. God’s deliverance is permanent, not partial. It accomplishes the impossible.David was asking God to save him from his own sin. He was miserable as a result of his moral failure. He had confessed, but he need God’s forgiveness and deliverance from his own sinful nature.

David knew that deliverance from God produced a highly beneficial byproduct: a willing spirit. When David prayed, “uphold me with a willing spirit,” he was asking God to transform him into a person who willingly obeys. When we see God work miraculously in our lives and deliver us from difficult circumstances, we are much more prone to obey. God’s deliverance tends to breed increased dependence and obedience. But if we’re not careful, it can be short-lived. It is so easy for us to forget what God has done and fall back into our patterns of willful disobedience. David knew that God’s salvation tended to produce in him a more willing spirit. And that willing spirit became a witness and testimony to all those around him. When we live in dependence upon God, allowing Him to fight our battles for us, we have the joy of seeing Him work. That life of willing reliance upon God becomes a walking testimony to all those around us. David knew that if God could forgive him of what he had done, others would take notice and be more willing to return to God for forgiveness and salvation from their own sins.

But it is so easy for us to forget what God has done. His times of deliverance can be quickly forgotten and the joy experienced during those times can fade away. The Bible is full of stories illustrating that reality. In Psalm 106, the psalmist recalls God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. “So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise” (Psalm 106:10-12 ESV). God saved them and they sang His praises. But then they forgot. “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 106:13-15 ESV). Their joy quickly turned to sorrow. Their songs of praise turned to moans of agony and pain. The bottom line is that “t
hey forgot God, their Savior” (Psalm 106:21 ESV). It is so easy to do. God had even warned the people of Israel not to forget Him. When they stood on the edge of the land of Canaan, waiting to enter into it and take possession of it, God warned them, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 ESV).

It’s interesting to note that David’s prayer was the result of his sin with Bathsheba. But his sin with Bathsheba was the result of his unwillingness to go to war. Instead of leading the armies of Israel against the enemies of God, he chose to stay home. And his decision led to his immoral actions. In essence, he got fat and happy, choosing to enjoy the luxuries of kingship rather than risking his life ridding the land of enemies of God. His heart was lifted up and he soon forgot God. But God used David’s disobedience to bring him back. He got David’s attention. And now David longed for God’s salvation and the joy that accompanies it. Oh, that that would be the desire of every Christ-follower today. What a difference it would make if we longed to see God work in our lives, delivering us from our own self-inflicted pain and rescuing us from our enemies. We would know the joy of God’s salvation, and be able to tell others of His unfailing love and ability to deliver mightily.

1 Samuel 17-18, Romans 11

The Mercy of God.

1 Samuel 17-18, Romans 11

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! – Romans 11:33 ESV

Too often, we read the Bible as a collection of independent books contained in two separate sections – one that chronicles the ancient history of Israel while the other records more recent events. We fail to see the Scriptures as a cohesive story written by the Spirit of God through the pens of men. We overlook the central theme that pervades the book and the unmistakable reality that the entire Bible is the revelation of God, from beginning to end. We turn the Bible into a collection of Sunday School stories, told in isolation from the rest of the content of the book. Then we assign to these stories man-centered, morality-based lessons that we hope will help us live better lives. The story of David and Goliath is a perfect example. There are very few people who attended church as children who don’t know that story. And if asked, they could probably provide what some of the life lesson’s from David’s defeat of Goliath. They might talk about facing the giants in our own life through the power of faith. Their recollection of the story might have Goliath as a representation of all the trials and troubles of life. David might represent the underdog, or the individual who finds himself facing seemingly insurmountable odds. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with some of these ideas, the problem is that we tend to miss out on the real story behind the story. We can also fail to see that the story of David and Goliath is really not about either one of these characters. It is about God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had chosen David. The prophet Samuel had already anointed David as the God-chosen replacement for king Saul. And David was already working part-time for Saul as a court musician, playing his harp any time Saul had one of his fits of anger. God’s hand was on David. He was orchestrating the entire situation, preparing for the time at which David would succeed Saul as the king of Israel. In the story of David’s defeat of Goliath, it seems that David is the only Israelite who had faith in God. He alone, as a young shepherd boy, had the gumption to ask, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26 ESV). He could believe that the entire army of Israel was shaking in its sandals as a result of the taunts of this one Philistine. David told King Saul, “Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36 ESV). It would be easy to make this statement all about the faith of David. But the real point is the ONE in whom David’s faith was placed. This is about God. David even told Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand” (1 Samuel 17:45-46 ESV). David’s faith is not the issue. It is the God in whom his faith was placed. The entire story of the Bible up to this point has been about the faithfulness, power, mercy, love and goodness of God toward His people. David knew the history of Israel, so he knew the character of God. It wasn’t David’s faith that was great. It was his God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

One young man was willing to stand on the character and trustworthiness of God and face the enemies of God. While the rest of Israel stood by, quaking in their sandals and doubting the ability of their God to do what He had done hundreds of times before, David was going to step out on nothing more than God’s reputation and past track record. This story is just one of many stories found in the Bible that reveal man’s inability and unwillingness to trust God. The fear and faithlessness exhibited by Saul and his army is not an anomaly. It is the norm. From Old Testament to New Testament we see the continuing struggle of men to recognize God for who He is. When Jesus came, the people of Israel had been waiting and searching for their Messiah for generations. But when He showed up on the scene, they refused to acknowledge Him for who He was. They rejected the very one they had waited for for so long. But Paul tells us that even their rejection was part of God’s plan. The story is NOT about their rejection or their lack of faith, but God’s divine plan for the redemption of mankind. Paul writes, “So I ask, did they [the Jews] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusionmean!” (Romans 11:11-12 ESV). The rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people was part of God’s plan to open up the gospel to the Gentiles or non-Jews. But God was not rejecting the Jews. He was simply using their refusal to recognize His Son as an opportunity to share His grace outside the household of Abraham. In so doing, God would make Israel jealous. All along they had thought they were the exclusive recipients of God’s mercy and grace. Now they were learning that God’s love was available to all. The story is not about the faithless of Jews and the faithfulness of Gentiles. It is about the love, mercy, grace, and sovereignty of God. “Their rejection [of Jesus] means the reconciliation of the world” (Romans 11:15 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The Bible is about the mercy of God. All men have sinned against His holy commands. All men stand condemned before a righteous, just and holy God. There’s not a one of us who can claim to have lived in perfect obedience to God’s will and yet, only perfect obedience is acceptable to a holy God. From cover to cover, the Bible reveals the sinfulness of men. And it doesn’t matter if they are pagan Philistines or the chosen people of Israel. Saul was just as faithless as Goliath. He put his trust in his armor and sword just like Goliath did. But the story here is not about the battle, slings, stones, David, Saul or even Goliath. It is about God and His unwavering mercy shown to men who don’t deserve it. Again, Paul writes, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they [the Jews] too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may nowreceive mercy.For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:30-32 ESV). God showed mercy to David that day. David didn’t deserve to defeat Goliath because of his faith. David’s faith isn’t the issue. David’s God is. He showed mercy to Israel by overlooking their faithlessness and giving them victory over their enemies. He showed mercy to Saul by not forcing him to face his own death at the hands of Goliath. God is still showing mercy on mankind. And there is a day coming when He will shower His mercy on Israel once again, fully fulfilling His promises made generations ago to Abraham.

God is a merciful God. He is a compassionate, faithful, loving God. He is a sovereign God. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV). To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Father, it is all about You. We are not the stars of the story, You are. It is not about our faith. It is not about our obedience. It is not about our victories in battle. It is always about You. Your love. Your mercy. Your power. Your plan. Your Son. Your salvation. Your Kingdom. Your glory. Your righteousness. Help me learn to stop making the story about me. May I learn to see You on every page of Scripture and recognize You in every moment of my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men