And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together….
And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying . . . . who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God ?
There was something about the music of the young harpist who played in his court that cleared the mind of Saul and drove his deep depression far away. It was hard to say just what. About the only explanation was that musical instruments were rare and the mastery of them almost unknown. It was a new experience even for a king to have the air filled with music all around him for extended hours. It could not help but to captivate his attention and carry his mind away from those bitterest thoughts. It seemed as though with that young man there came the crisp freshness of the Judean air, the radiant glory of the open field, the bubbling life of the mountain streams, and upon the wings of his music they entered with their healing balm into the king’s troubled soul. The days were not many before the strength and interest of the king revived. Even the young musician could return to his home as the king took up again his normal activities. Still, it was not as though anything basic had really happened. The curse which Samuel had pronounced was still there, and in the back of his mind Saul knew it. It was just that, for the moment, by the means of this music, the king had come to the point where he was able to ignore it, able to act as though it didn’t really matter, able to live as though it weren’t there. That is, until the Philistines came.
There was something about the Philistines that had always troubled Saul more than any other enemy. Against other enemies he had always been able to maintain himself in strength; but when the Philistines came, it seemed as though things somehow went amiss. It was almost as though they were there for the special purpose of trying him. So now again, things were just beginning to look up again and there they were pitching their tents in his territory between Shochoh and Azekah.
Saul knew, of course, what he had to do. Years had passed since he had last engaged in battle with the Philistines, and those years had brought him a vast amount of experience in the tactics of warfare. Quickly he called his army together and pitched camp over against them just as any commander would be expected to do. That wasn’t the trouble. It was that other, that fear which for a short time the magic of music had seemed to have driven from his mind; now it was there again throbbing through his head just as loudly and terrorizingly as it ever had. Always before he had had that one great consolation even though he couldn’t always understand it; he had had the assurance that the great and mysterious power which Samuel represented was behind him; but now that was gone. All he could remember were those terrible words of curse, “Thou has rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.” He couldn’t forget it. It terrorized him every day anew; it paralyzed him, he couldn’t move. There he stood surrounded by a great army, but never had he felt so much alone.
And then, as though to mock him in his terror, there stood Goliath. It must have seemed a frenzied dream that first morning in the camp when he heard the rumbling in the valley and looked out to see Goliath towering there. Standing full ten feet high, and looking twice that, the great Goliath called and shook the mountains with his voice as he called to Saul to come out and meet him in battle. What was a man to do, particularly one who himself was used to standing head and shoulders above everyone else? Before Goliath he looked like a child, and that was the way he felt too, even though there were still hundreds of feet between them. It all seemed to fit in together to make Saul completely unable to move.
Meanwhile in Bethlehem circumstances were being prepared which were to bring David once again into contact with king Saul, only now in quite a different capacity.
David’s three oldest brothers were members of Saul’s army. Thus they were among those summoned when the Philistines had invaded the land, and they had been encamped with Saul on the battle field ever since. But the reports which came back to their home since they had left were not good, at least they were unbelievably strange. First, of course, there were the almost unbelievable stories of that great giant who came out each day to defy the armies of Israel and mock them. But even stranger than that was the fact that no other reports followed. Israel’s army by this time was a large army and strong, accustomed to pushing a battle with determination until victory would result. But now week after week went by without reports of any attacks or battles or even minor skirmishes. To Jesse, a man who had always been deeply concerned about the welfare of his nation, this all did not make sense. Regardless of how big and imposing the Philistine’s giant might be, there was no reason why the hundreds of thousands of Israelite soldiers should not have moved in and attacked. Why the battle was not joined, Jesse could not understand.
Finally he could bear the concern no longer. Calling to him David, his youngest son, he instructed him to carry some provisions to his brothers in the army and to inquire of them the real reason as to why the battle went as it did. There was good reason why Jesse chose David of his five remaining sons to perform this mission. Not only was David far more inclined to share his father’s concern for the welfare of the nation than any of the others, but he was known to be courageous as well as observant and truthful in all that he did. Besides, being as yet little more than a young shepherd boy, he would be the least likely to be molested should he meet up with the enemy.
When at last David arrived upon the battlefield, what he found there was even stranger than the reports that had come to them in Bethlehem: he found the whole great army of Israel cowering in absolute fear. The terror which gripped the heart of the king had had its effect also upon his men. Although Saul had long mastered the trick of keeping his face calm regardless of what his inner feelings might be, the men very quickly felt that new uncertainty which had come upon him. Beyond doubt, when the army had first come together there at the valley of Elah, there had been many of the valiant men of Israel who were more than ready to go out to do battle against this new invasion of the enemy. Even when Goliath had first appeared, as terrible as his appearance might have been, a simple call from the king would surely have brought many volunteers from the ranks willing to give their all against any odds for the sake of their country. But Saul had hesitated, and the result was a disaster. Day after day the men gazed upon the imposing figure of the giant, listened to his mocking challenge, and noted the indecision of the king until each had taken second thoughts and no one dared to move. Even more, when at last the king’s call for a volunteer came, it was not a simple request, but was couched in promises of riches, a royal marriage, and absolute freedom in Israel which sounded more like a bribe than anything else. It only frightened the men the more, until all hope of finding anyone was gone. The terror of Saul’s own heart had engulfed the camp.
To the young David entering the camp of Israel’s army for the first time, it must have seemed incomprehensible. In his young mind, the army of Israel had always been idealized. With his faith in God, he firmly believed it to be undefeatable. That he should now find this very army cowering in fear and doing nothing was to him unbelievable. But that was nothing at, all compared to his amazement when Goliath suddenly appeared in the valley to hurl once again his daily challenge at Israel, “Why are ye come out to set your battle in’ array? Am not I a philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.” The sound of that voice stopped David short and sent shivers of amazement down his back; but with him it was different than with the others. He was yet a young man, hardly more than a boy, who had grown up in a home where the name of Israel had always been held in highest respect, for it belonged to the children of the living God. Time and again he had spent hours and even days in the field carefully piecing together songs by which he could sing its praises; but such words as these that came from Goliath he had never heard. He could not imagine why that great army of Israel did not rise up in shocked indignation to plung down the hill and silence the mockery of that voice together. Was there not one in the camp who could endure the mockery of that voice no longer? Eagerly he looked about to see who would be stepping forth to meet the arrogant challenge. After all, there was no cause for fear. Jehovah their God was with them; and before Him the size of Goliath meant nothing. But all he saw was men drawing back and cowering in fear while those about him plaintively explained, “Have ye seen this man that is come up? surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel.”
David was astonished at the very suggestion that a reward should have to be offered in the attempt to find someone to meet this challenge, and unbelievingly he asked again, “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?”
It was Eliab, David’s oldest brother, who first suspected the direction in which the conversation was going and did what he could to head it off. He knew David and his utter lack of fear. It might seem impossible, but it was not; this boy was about to volunteer to fight that giant. He had to be stopped. It was not just concern for David’s safety that troubled him, it was the thought of the shame that would come upon him and his father’s house if one of his own family should be guilty of precipitating the defeat of the nation, and it was the shame he already felt to think that in this youngest brother there was a courage that he himself lacked. There was only one thing that Eliab could think of which might stop him, that was to challenge David’s obedience. Thus angrily he said, “Why earnest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness ? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.”
But David was not to be distracted with such petty complaints. His heart had been stirred with much more serious concerns, concerns for the name of his God and his nation. He simply answered, “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?” and with that he turned to pursue his inquiry further.
It was not long before the men began to realize that here was one the like of whom over a month of searching had failed to turn up, one with the courage to fight with Goliath. He appeared almost impossibly small in the middle of that army of grown men, but the desperation of the hour was such that no possibility could be ignored. The word soon came to the ears of Saul, and David was brought before him.