DAVID was disappointed because of the Israelite soldiers' fear of Goliath — the giant Philistine soldier. For loudly voicing his opinion to some of the troops, David was taken to Saul. King Saul asked for an explanation. Saul was surprised when David blurted out that he would fight Goliath. (I Samuel 17:20-32.)
Reacquaintance with King Saul
"I admire your courage, young man," Saul told him, "but you would have no chance of coming out alive in a contest with this mountain of a man. You are young and untrained. He has been a professional soldier for years. And according to his terms, Israel would have to surrender after-your death!" "I'm not exactly inexperienced in fighting, sir," David explained. "I herd sheep for my father, and once I killed a grown bear that had stolen a lamb. At another time a lamb was taken by a lion. I killed the powerful beast with my bare hands!" Some of Saul's officers glanced at each other and exchanged winks. Others grinned, but the grins faded as David continued his appeal. "God made it possible for me to save both lambs by giving me the ability to slay both beasts. God will also help me slay the defiant, heathen Philistine who has challenged the people of God!" Saul stared at David. He could see that the strangely familiar young man was quite sincere, though it was difficult for him to believe that David had killed a lion without using a sword or spear. "You seem so confident," Saul observed, "that perhaps you should be the one to go out against Goliath. Go if you insist, and may God protect you!" (I Samuel 17:33-37.) "But, sir," a surprised officer said to Saul as he took him aside, "this would mean that there'll be an attack!" "I know," Saul replied. "But this senseless state of affairs has to end sometime. Have our men ready to follow this fellow. We'll rush in behind him to cut down that Goliath before the Philistines can get across the valley! After that — who knows?" Saul insisted that David put on his special armor for protection. Aides quickly outfitted him, even giving him Saul's very fine sword. But the metal equipment was so bulky and heavy that David could hardly walk, and it had to be removed. There was no time to be lost. Goliath was still lingering at the edge of the valley and shouting occasional affronts at the Israelites in general. Instead of Saul's sword, David took the staff he usually carried and walked down the slopes toward the giant. He had to cross a small stream that trickled into the valley. From its bed he selected five stones that had been worn smooth and round by the action of the water. These he slipped into the small shepherd's bag he wore attached to his belt along with his sling. (I Samuel 17:38-40.) When Goliath saw someone approaching, he picked up his huge spear and slowly strode toward David, his heavy armor gleaming and clanking. As soon as the two men were close enough to easily view each other, Goliath came to a halt and let out a roar of disdain. His shieldbearer, stalking before him, lowered his shield to the ground to indicate that protection for his champion wouldn't be necessary.
David Against Goliath
"Why has Saul sent out an unarmed youngster to meet me?" the giant bellowed. "Does he think I have no more fighting ability than a dog? What do you plan on doing to me with that stick you are holding? May the gods of my nation curse you for this insult to me!" Goliath spat toward David, then turned and glared in another direction in a gesture of scorn. Out of the corner of his eye Goliath could see David moving slowly toward him. His massive hand clenched his spear tighter as he turned to glare at his challenger. David knew that if the spear left the giant's grasp, it would hurtle toward him like a catapulted log! "That's it, boy!" Goliath taunted, beckoning with his left hand. "Come a little close to me, if you dare, you brainless runt! As long as you're here, I might as well turn you into carrion for the birds and animals of this valley!" (I Samuel 17:41-44.) "You are too sure of yourself!" David shouted to Goliath. "You have come here to fight with only the help of your sword and spear. You have only your armor and shield to protect you. I come here in the name of the mighty Lord of millions, the God of the armies of Israel — the same God you have foolishly defied for the last forty days. You trust in your sword, spear, and shield. I trust in the living God. This God will now make it possible for me to bring you to the ground, so that I can cut off your head! Then the birds and the beasts will have more food than they can eat, because today they'll feast on the carcasses of thousands of your fellow soldiers as well as on your own! All who see this thing or hear of it will realize that battles aren't decided by the plans of men and the strength of their arms. The God of Israel decides who shall win, and in this battle Israel shall be the victor!" (I Samuel 17:45-47.) "Bringing your God into this doesn't frighten me, little fellow!" Goliath shouted back, signaling to his shield-bearer to withdraw to one side. "No God can save you now!" With surprising speed for one of his size, the Philistine lunged forward, at the same time lifting his great spear from his shoulder and drawing it backward for the thrust. While Goliath had been talking, David had slipped a stone into the leather socket of his sling. He rushed forward and forcefully slung the stone. The giant's spear was never thrown. The stone from David's sling hissed into the Philistine's forehead just beneath the rim of his helmet. Goliath's knees buckled, and then his massive body toppled forward like a great tree, crashing to the ground with a loud clang of metal! David rushed to the fallen giant. The helmet had rolled several yards away, and he could see that the stone was deeply embedded in the huge head, proving that death had been instant. David dragged Goliath's weighty sword from the scabbard, raised it as high as he could, then brought it down on the giant's bullish neck, severing the head from the body. (I Samuel 17:48-51.)
Vanquished in God's Name
David looked up to see Goliath's shield-bearer racing back toward the Philistine army. The foremost ranks and officers could clearly see what had happened to their champion. The frightened Philistines turned and fled. Soon the first ranks of Saul's shouting army were swarming past David, and took off in swift pursuit of the Philistines as they fled across the valley. The Israelites overtook and killed thousands of them in a wild retreat that covered many miles. A large part of the army of the enemy managed to get off to a good start toward the homeland. Many troops succeeded in reaching Philistia to seek refuge in their fortified cities, including Shaaraim, Gath and Ekron, but without quite gaining freedom. They were overtaken at the very gates of the cities they almost reached. Hundreds fell by the swords, spears and arrows of the Israelites, who were consumed with vengeful feelings because the Philistines' champion had insulted them for so many days. There were no enemy troops to come out of the cities against the Israelites, who later safely marched back to their barracks. On their way they took provisions and arms left in the Philistine camp, and destroyed everything they couldn't use. (I Samuel 17:52-53.) Hours before, when David had gone out against Goliath, Saul had asked Abner, next in command of the Israelite army, if he knew who the young man was and from where he had come. Abner had assured Saul that he had no idea who David was. There was no more time to inquire before the Israelites set out after the Philistines. After the pursuit began, David trudged up to the barracks carrying Goliath's head and the giant's armor. Abner sent some of his aides to carry the armor and bring David before Saul. "I want to commend you for your bravery and skill," Saul told David. "It's amazing that a young man like you, not even a soldier, succeeded in doing what none of my men would dare try! Tell me about yourself." "I am David, the youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem," David answered. "I came here today to bring food to three of my brothers who are in your army. I was angry when I heard the giant speaking contemptible things of Israel. I knew that God would help me silence him, and He did." (I Samuel 17:54-58.)
A Hero's Acclaim
"I salute you, David!" Saul exclaimed. "I should like to have you remain here with me and my officers, so that you can train to become an accomplished soldier." (I Samuel 18:2.) David thanked Saul, at the same time wondering how Saul could have forgotten the weeks David had spent with him as a musician and armor-bearer. Not wishing to embarrass Saul, David refrained from mentioning these things to him. One of the first matters David took care of that day was to send a message to Jesse, his father, informing him that he was safe and would be staying with Saul for a time. In the days that followed, David and Saul's son, Jonathan, became close friends. Jonathan honored David by presenting him with some of his costly military clothing and weapons. David was so useful and well liked by all that Saul made him an officer of high rank in his army. That didn't mean he was to start out by commanding men in battle, but that he had other duties of a lighter nature that nevertheless afforded him great respect. And he would be quickly trained to lead troops into battle. (I Samuel 18:1, 3-5.) Then an incident took place that destroyed Saul's friendliness toward David. It was part of God's plan to eventually move David into power as king of Israel. Days were required for news of the Philistines' defeat to spread over all Israel. The people were so happily excited that some of the cities sent to Gibeah groups of young women, trained as dancers, singers and musicians, to praise the Israelite army for its victory. When it was announced that the girls were coming to parade past Saul's royal quarters, crowds gathered along the streets. Saul and his officers, including David and Jonathan, waited on the balcony of the building while thousands of troops stood at attention nearby. Band after band of young women, singing loudly, banging tambourines, plucking lyres and blowing horns, moved nimbly down the street past the crowds and Saul's balcony. Some marched, some danced and others rode on animals as they played. They shouted tributes to the troops and officers and sang songs that were composed to direct enthusiastic esteem to the victorious warriors. Saul and his men were very pleased by this animated demonstration. Then, toward the end of the parade, came an especially vocal group of singers whose song was worded rather carelessly: "Our thanks. to Saul, our mighty king, for facing thousands one cannot count; But David's feat was a greater thing — Like facing ten times that amount!" The bystanders, having heard so much of David's heroism, broke into wild applause. Saul's expression of pleasure abruptly melted away to make way for a scowl he couldn't hide. He glanced darkly at David, who was so embarrassed by the singers that he turned away from the balcony. Saul quickly strode off to his quarters. "That was a most disloyal display!" Saul muttered to himself as he paced irritably back and forth in a private room. "The crowd applauded David's name more than mine. Surely it isn't possible that this young upstart is the one Samuel predicted would take the leadership of Israel from me!" (I Samuel 18:6-9.)
Royal Jealousy Flares
Next morning Saul awakened to find that he was in the same miserable condition that had bothered him in former times. He was wretched and depressed. He felt as though everyone about him were plotting to take his life. It was difficult for him to breathe, as if invisible hands were closing about his throat. He shouted for his servants to help him, but ordered them out as soon as they touched him. "My father is ill this morning," Jonathan worriedly confided to David. "He acts as though he is out of his mind, but no one knows how to help him." "Perhaps I can help him if you can find a harp for me," David suggested. "I can play a harp fairly well, and the music might calm him." Jonathan immediately sent servants to find a harp. When one was brought a little later, David tuned it, went into the hallway leading to the room occupied by Saul, and began playing. Wondering at the source of the music, Saul opened the hall door just enough to be able to see through. When he saw who was playing the harp, he was furious. This was the first time that David's playing upset the Israelite leader instead of soothing him. All he could think of at the moment was how to get rid of the younger man. He seized the scepter he often kept with him, which was actually a fancifully carved spear, and peered out to see if there were others in the hallway. Assured that David was alone, he opened the door wider. "I'll put an end to at least some of my troubles by nailing that ambitious young buck to the wall!" Saul murmured to himself. He drew the spear back, then savagely sent it hurtling toward David's chest. At that precise moment David dodged. The spear zipped close over his shoulder to gouge chips of stone out of the wall behind him. Realizing that it would be foolish to linger, he ran down the hall. Angered still further by the failure of his effort, Saul leaped out of his room to snatch up his spear and hurl it again at David's retreating figure. The weapon embedded itself in a wooden pillar at the end of the hall only a second after David ducked aside to descend a stairway. (I Samuel 18:10-11.)
Saul Plots Against David
When next Saul and David met, it was as though nothing unusual had happened, David had concluded that Saul's rash behavior was due to a temporary mental upset. He told no one about it. Saul seemingly was as friendly as usual. In fact, he announced publicly that he was making David the commander of a thousand of his trained soldiers. David at first was pleased. But later he began to realize why Saul did this when it was disclosed that the thousand soldiers were stationed several miles from Gibeah. Saul had suddenly come to dislike David, and this was his way of getting the young man out of his sight and at the same time pleasing the many people who admired David. As the months passed, David proved himself an exceptionally capable leader of the troops given to his command. He conducted himself wisely at all times, at the same interval growing in favor with his soldiers and the people, to Saul's envy. Meanwhile, Saul's suspicion grew that David was destined to be the next king. His dislike for the younger man grew accordingly. He even feared him in that he almost expected that God would act through David to punish him for trying to kill David with a spear. (I Samuel 18:12-16.) Saul had noticed that there were some signs of affection between David and his daughters. He seized on this circumstance to start carrying out a base scheme. "Would you care to have Merab, my older daughter, for your wife?" Saul bluntly asked David next time he met him. "Not unless she prefers me above others for her husband," David answered. Saul wasn't pleased by this equally blunt reply. When a king offered a daughter in marriage, it was highly irregular for a condition to be mentioned by the one who was to receive her. Saul managed a smile as he continued. "I can promise you that Merab will prefer you. I'll happily give her in marriage to you within the week as a reward for your outstanding service in my army. Of course from then on I'll expect your men to go first into any battle with the Philistines. The husband of a princess should set an example in valor." "I am very flattered," David observed, "but I am not from a wealthy or famous family. Your daughter wouldn't be happy to be married to a former sheepherder." Saul had expected that David would eagerly accept his older daughter, and that the younger man's obligation to Saul would mean so much exposure in battle that David would soon be killed by the Philistines. He was so angry at David's polite refusal that he immediately gave Merab away in marriage to another man. David wasn't disappointed. Michal, Saul's younger daughter, was the one to whom he was more attracted, and Michal had a strong liking for David. When Saul learned, to his relish, that it was Michal whom David preferred, he started planning again. (I Samuel 18:17-21.) "This time our overly particular hero can't refuse me," Saul mused sinisterly, "and he'll pay with his life much sooner than I planned!"