We are not told whether Saul recognized David when he was brought to him at the battlefield of Elah or not. It may well have been that he did not. Although for a time David had become a very familiar figure in the royal court, the circumstances and even the appearance of David were so different as to almost defy identification. Then David had been dressed in the finest clothing that his father was able to provide; now he stood before Saul in the rough but serviceable clothing of the field. Then David had been presented in the capacity of a musician with all of the tenderness and poetic sensitivity of his nature on the fore; now he stood as a young but courageous youth ready to go and do battle where all of the strongest of Saul’s warriors had backed down. Besides this, Saul’s own outlook was now so completely different. Then he had been moody and depressed. Samuel had spoken some very harsh and deprecating words to him and had broken off friendship with him completely. He had been looking for some encouragement and assurance that he wasn’t so bad after all. But now he was frightened, even terrorized. There was Goliath each day down in the valley calling for some one to fight him. Saul knew what was expected. He was the leader of Israel, he was the one who should meet Goliath’s challenge. But he had never been a man of that kind of courage, and now all he could remember was Samuel’s curse. Was this the moment so soon when the kingdom was to be taken from him? All Saul’s heated mind could do was to search about desperately for something that might save him from this peril. It was no time to ask about the familiarity of someone’s face. Saul’s only concern was with what this young man was able to do.
At first glance the appearance of David must have been terribly disheartening. Surely when first it had been mentioned to the king that someone had been found who was willing to go out and fight with Goliath, his mind must have imagined some new recruit of unusual strength and stature whom he had not met as yet; but now there was brought before him a young man, scarcely more than a lad, with nothing more than shepherd’s togs upon his back. Gently and hiding his own disappointment as best as he could, Saul said to the youth, “Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.”
Still, Saul was not able to dismiss the young man that easily. For one thing, it was the only ray of hope he himself had. This was the only one who had appeared willing to do battle with this Philistine. As impossible as it seemed, Saul could not bring himself to let this one possibility slip away. But even more, there was the answer which the lad gave to his comment. He said, “Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” Here was something which Saul knew full well. He had met it often before in the old prophet Samuel. It was the voice of unwavering courage arising from a living faith in Jehovah God. He had never really known it himself. In a way he had never wanted it because it implied a sacrifice of personal ambition which his nature would not allow. But he recognized that power when he saw it, and with the expression of this faith David grew before him to a stature which the eye could not measure. He did not dare to countermand him but humbly answered, “Go, and the LORD be with thee.”
Nevertheless, Saul could not send the youth directly into battle without making some effort to prepare him properly. Perhaps it was a rather foolish gesture; but there was no better armor in the camp than the king’s own, and so he took it off and instructed David to put it on himself. Patiently the youth submitted and put the armor on piece by piece until it became perfectly evident that it would not do. Not only was the armor much too large, but David was completely unused to such cumbersome wear as that. Respectfully but emphatically he told the king, “I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them.” Nor did the king dare to urge him further, for he felt himself completely outclassed by this youth. In these days when he smarted so under the curse of Samuel, Saul recognized in David that blessing he did not have for himself. In fact, as long as he could identify himself with this youth, it was almost as though he was able to escape the effects of that fearful curse. With very unusual humility, the king left this young man to go in the way of his own choosing.
There was surely a hushed stillness that fell over the camp of Israel as this youth, of whom they all had become aware, descended from the camp into the valley to meet Goliath. To many it must have seemed the final proof that the king had lost his senses. The absurdity of it all was too evident. It was just incomprehensible that a person with any common sense would even think of sending a child against the mighty Goliath, and that was saying nothing yet about the fact that this youth had nothing but a shepherd’s cloak and stave while Goliath was fully armed. Still, we would believe that there were some in that camp who against the tide of doubt held on believing to the hope which they had in God. They had heard of this youth’s confession, and they remembered what such faith in God had accomplished in the past. Although they themselves had not had faith so strong as to go forth as David was now going, they did recognize and love it when it appeared in him. Thus even as the youth went down into the valley, their prayers of faith were ascending above in his behalf.
To no one, however, was this appearance of David more disconcerting than to Goliath himself. Forty days now, that great Philistine had stalked the valley of Elah calling for someone to meet him in battle. Perhaps wisdom would have dictated that long before he should have given up this approach and called for the whole army of the Philistines to make an attack upon the army of Israel. But he didn’t want to do that. He wanted so badly for their victory over Israel to be a personal victory for which he alone could receive the credit. Day after day he continued to hope that Israel would finally break down and send their strongest and most capable soldier into battle. Maybe they would even send forth their king, a man known to be of considerable stature himself, or maybe they would surrender without a battle. It mattered only to Goliath that he should receive all of the credit. But now, when he looked up to see nothing but a shepherd boy coming out to meet him, and with challenge and determination in his every gesture besides, it was more than the pride of Goliath could stand. This was a cruel joke; it was an outright mockery; it was an unendurable affront. They were sending a child to fight him and one who wasn’t even armed. With a sudden surge of hot anger, the blood rushed to his hand while the anguished cry escaped his lips, “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.”
But David was not one to tremble at words. He was not one to be concerned for his own safety. One thing rested upon his mind and that alone. He had heard the name of his God held up in mockery, and against this mockery the name of God had to be justified. With even temper but with determined indignation, he answered the Philistine, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hands.”
The words had been spoken, the challenge given, and now all that remained was the battle. The giant angered beyond restraint hurried toward the youth with all of the speed that his long legs were able to provide. But David was equally determined. He was prepared for he had already stopped at the brook to place five smooth stones in his pouch; and with the light speed of an unencumbered body he came toward the Philistine equally fast. But the battle was over before Goliath ever came close enough to strike. In David’s hand was his sling, and while he was still running a stone had been drawn from his pouch. It took but a moment for him to place the stone within the sling and deliver it upon its way; but it was the hand of the Lord which brought it to rest deep within the forehead of the giant. David’s hands were skilled enough, but “the battle is the LORD’s,” he had already confessed.
One can imagine the electrified stillness which filled the air when suddenly that towering body stopped in its onward rush and then slowly began to crumble. One can imagine how the sound of that great carcass hitting the ground must have seemed to sound as thunder and the shock wave to make the hills to tremble. And still for a moment all stood in stunned silence while that youth in the valley below with careful but swift determination drew that great sword from its sheath and cut off the head of the giant; but then the hillsides erupted. With anguished surprise, the Philistines turned and ran wildly away from that fearful valley. But the armies of Israel were soon upon them. With the exhilarating speed of a sure victory, they poured into the valley and up the other side to follow the Philistines. There for a moment all knew that they had beheld a miracle. “The battle is the LORD’s,” David had expressed it. In this confidence they went forth, and in that faith victory only could follow.