There was once a wonderful boy whose name was David. He lived with his father and seven brothers in a country where a man’s wealth was counted by the number of sheep and cattle he possessed. David had charge of his father’s sheep and often was away from home in the fields with them for days at a time. When he slept, his pillow was some smooth stones piled together, with his arms under him if he wanted it softer. The stars, and the moon when it shone, were his only light at night, and his blanket was a rough mantle of goat’s hair which he wore over his shoulders in the daytime.
Some of the nights in that country are so cold and frosty that the sheep and shepherd have to lie close together to keep warm and to protect themselves from wild animals that prowl about at night. Fierce with hunger, these animals often attacked the sheep, and now and then a bold one would attack the shepherd. Wild, lawless men, more cruel than the beasts, hid in gloomy places among the rocks of the narrow valleys. Often they stole the sheep and tried to kill the shepherd. So, you see,, David’s task was not the safe occupation the shepherd’s is to-day.
Here among bleak rocks, in dark valleys or sunny pastures, the boy David went for days, and even months, with none to talk to unless some poor wounded lamb needed cuddlingjust as I have seen a boy caress and talk to a frightened kitten that had crept to his arms for safety.. You will naturally ask why such a difficult and frequently dangerous task was not given to one of David’s elder brothers instead of to him. Just for the reason that he was the youngest, for in those days the best of everything went to the eldest of the family. The younger brothers acted as servants to the elder and did the most disagreeable work.
We know that David did not spend a moment envying his older brothers, or wishing that he had been born the eldest so that he could go to war and help the king fight the enemies of his country. Glory was not for David, and he knew it. His brothers could win victories in battle, but he must stay out alone under the stars and care for his father’s sheep. You may ask how we know that David didn’t envy his brothers, or fret because they had so much more comfortable and lively a time than himself.
In the story as it was first told, we read that David “was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look upon.” Now everyone knows that a lad with a face like that does n’t envy anyone and is n’t fretful and discontented. Such thoughts would have shown in his face or been evident in his manner, and he surely wouldn’t have been “goodly to look upon.” David had found a Friend in the wilderness, a Friend who talked to him, and One to whom he often talked. Years afterward he wrote out these talks with his Friend, and we have them in a book which we call the Psalms. If you will read the Twenty-third Psalm you will have a word picture of how David cared for the sheep among the hills of Palestine. It is there he likens the task of the shepherd to God’s caring for His people.
David, together with his seven brothers and other Hebrew lads, had been taught that his people had been especially blessed by Jehovah, the God of Israel. He had learned how God had brought the Hebrews out from slavery in Egypt, and how the waters of the Red Sea had rolled back so that Israel could walk on dry ground as they crossed from Egypt into the desert. His father had told him how the people had been fed with manna in the wilderness. He had told him also how God had at last brought them to a beautiful land where they could have a king chosen from among their own people, live under their own Hebrew laws, and have homes of their own. Once a host of weak, frightened slaves, they had become a great and prosperous nation, feared by the countries around them; and all because Jehovah, their God, had been with them and directed them. Now we begin to see why David was never lonely or afraid, why he had strength to rescue the lambs from the lion and the bear that had tried to destroy them, and was able to save his countrymen from the fear of their enemies.
Among Israel’s enemies were the Philistines, who were always provoking them to war. The Hebrews were very much afraid of these Philistines. They must have forgotten what God had done for them in the past, or surely they would have called upon Him at once instead of putting their trust in a heavy suit of armor and a king who was as badly frightened as they were. The Philistines had grown very haughty and did a great deal of swaggering, as enemies always do when they see that people are afraid of them.
The armies of Israel stood on a mountain side, and across the valley on another mountain side were the Philistine warriors. These two armies were like two foolish and angry boys who stand scowling at each other, wanting to fight and not exactly daring to. Finally, a giant Philistine, named Goliath, strode out into the valley and said that he would fight any single man of Israel. If he won, the Hebrews were to become the Philistines’ servants, but if the Hebrews won, the Philistines would submit to Israel. Then happened to Israel what happens to all of us when we get badly frightened they forgot all about their God and His former care of them. That David did differently we know, for in one of the Psalms he says, “Bless Jehovah, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
I know you will say that the Hebrews acted foolishly and that if you had been in their place you would not have done as they did. But stop a moment and think; do we ever, any of us, think clearly or do anything sensible when we are afraid?
All this time our shepherd boy, David, was caring for his sheep and wanting to know how the battle was being fought, and which side was winning. Then a message came to him from his father, to make himself ready and carry some food to his brothers who were encamped with Israel on the mountain side. Again we see David “goodly to look upon,” for he was ready when his father sent the message. Not a word did he say about having to stop to do, or to finish, anything before he started on his errand. And he was prompt, for he rose early in the morning to begin his journey to the camp, and although we know that, boylike, he must have been glad to visit the stirring scenes taking place in the valley, he did not forget his sheep, for he left them in charge of a keeper. When he reached the army he first greeted his brothers and delivered his message. Even the excitement about him and his own interest in the expected battle did not make him forget what he had come for; he attended to that first. You see, David, when he had an object in view, went straight toward it, and when he aimed at anything he meant to hit it.
Goliath strutted back and forth before Israel, calling them to come out and fight him. He sneered at them because they were, afraid, and said that he defied not only one man, but the whole army of Israel.
David was not at all frightened, for, lying out under the stars on his stony pillow, he had heard God whisper in his heart, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” And he well knew that the bluster and bragging of a bully such as Goliath merely meant weakness.
But the poor trembling Hebrews fled, telling David that the man who could slay this giant would be greatly honored by the Hebrew king, Saul. David’s reply must have astonished them all, for it was, “What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
David felt that it was a shame for his countrymen to forget God and fear man, even if that man were a giant covered with a coat of mail and heavy brass armor, a giant who shook his great spear as he walked toward Israel, with a servant going before him carrying his huge shield. But our shepherd boy had on armor that no one saw. His shield was faith in God.
David’s eldest brother was present and was very angry at what he considered his young brother’s impertinent curiosity. He said some very hard and unkind things to David. Here again our hero goes straight to his mark and does not miss his aim. His purpose was to learn how the trouble between. Israel and the Philistines was to be settled, and who was to meet Goliath. He had no time to get angry and quarrel with his brother when more important matters were to be decided,
King Saul sent for David when he heard how bravely the lad had spoken. No doubt he was much relieved when he thought that an experienced Hebrew warrior was willing to fight this terrible Goliath. Then picture his surprise when the youthful David, with erect, slight figure and fair face, was shown into his tent! David exclaimed at once, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”
The surprised king replied, “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.”
Then our shepherd boy said that God had delivered him and his sheep from the paws of a lion and a bear, and that the same God was certainly able to overcome the Philistine and save Israel. I don’t suppose that David’s memory was a bit better than Saul’s or that of the rest of the Hebrew army. But Saul and his men were filled with fear, and David was strong in faith. Their memories were at work telling them how dangerous their enemies were and how much harm they had done Israel, while David’s memory rested in the thought of the power of God and how he had never failed to deliver Israel from her enemies.
Saul admired David’s courage, but evidently thought that the lad did not realize the danger, for he armed the youth with his bulky armor. Some of you who have read the tales of chivalry in the Middle Ages know how the knights rode about clad in heavy armor. If any one of them was unhorsed, his enemy could easily kill him, because his armor was so bulky and heavy that it was almost impossible for the knight to move about in it. David felt this way about Saul’s armor. He was not used to it and therefore it hindered him, so he put off the armor, saying, “I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them.”
Saul did not know then what every school boy knows now, that unseen forces are the most powerful. And we should not be surprised at his thinking that David’s faith, which Saul could neither see nor feel, was not as powerful as his fine suit of armor. How did David go to meet Goliath? He took his staff, slung his shepherd’s bag across his shoulders after putting in it five smooth stones, and carried his sling in his hand. When Goliath and his shield-bearer advanced to meet David, I am sure both armies held their breath with suspense. The Hebrews looking at the mighty giant marching toward the youthful unarmed figure of David must have gained new courage, for courage and faith are contagious, as well as fear and doubt. David’s example and his words had put new energy into his people, and could you and I have seen them, we should have been surprised at the change in them, no longer cowering before the threats of the Philistines, but erect with the hope of victory.
As for the foolish Philistines, they were probably laughing in their sleeves at the sight and wondering if Israel and David had lost all their good sense. This is done to-day by all people who cannot understand spiritual things. Such people say that because a thing can’t be seen, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled, it does not exist. But we shall see who was in the right : the Philistines trusting in that which they saw, or the lad who had faith in the unseen God,
Goliath was very angry when he saw David coming toward him, and cursed him, saying, “Am I a dog, that thou comest to meet me with staves? Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field.”
Of course we know by this time that these words did not disturb David or make him wish that he had not offered to battle against the giant. Instead, he must have looked steadily at Goliath, for to have a good aim a lad must look at his mark and have a steady al m and clear sight. Had his faith weakened and fear taken its place, the stones in his bag and the sling in his hand would have been useless. An arm trembling with fright or doubt cannot send a stone, or anything else, straight toward its mark. David answered the savage Philistine in words that will live forever, so full are they of faith in “our Father,” God.
“Thou comest to meet me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin : but I come to thee in the name of Jehovah of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied. This day will Jehovah deliver thee into my hand . . . . that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that Jehovah saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is Jehovah’s, and He will give you into our hand.”
You have seen from the beginning that this was a very unequal contest; perhaps you have sympathized with Israel, because you believed they were physically weaker than their enemies. Maybe you who are older, and have learned that a boy’s head is worth more than his fist when he does some thinking, have felt ashamed of the ignorance of the Philistines, who tried to fight God, Spirit, with sword and spear. Whichever way you may have thought, the battle was Jehovah’s, as David said, and He did deliver Goliath into the hands of the shepherd boy.
As the giant advanced swaggering and cursing, trusting in his immense size and the strength of his armor, David began to run toward the Philistine. Drawing a stone from his bag as he ran, he put it in his sling and took aim at Goliath. As David’s faith and courage were sure, so was his aim, and the stone sank into the giant’s forehead. The mighty Philistine fell to the ground face down-ward. In those days it was customary to cut off the head of a fallen enemy. This David did, using the giant’s own sword. Then he held up the head of Goliath before Israel, proclaiming his victory.
When the Philistines saw that they were defeated, they fled, leaving their tents and treasures in the hands of Israel. The overjoyed Hebrews sang praises to their youthful hero, who had delivered them out of the hand of their enemies. While they were praising him, David, we know, must have thanked God for the victoryas always he had done and continued to do throughout his life when he was saved from trouble or from danger. Some of these thanksgiving songs of David’s are written in the Psalms. If you will read them you will come to love the shepherd lad who found God “a very present help in trouble.” David learned to love and to have faith in the unseen Power who guided him in the wilderness with his sheep and taught; him the lessons which made him afterward the well-beloved king of Israel. As you know, the name “David” means “beloved.”