When I was just beginning my teen years, my parents bought an old resort. You need to know that the word “resort” was used a bit more loosely in those days, and thus it was not at all the kind of place that first comes to your mind when you hear the word “resort.” It was not a fancy place in the least. There were only six cabins; five were rustic one-room cabins with a small porch, a bed or two, a dresser, and a wood stove. The “luxury cabin” had four rooms,2 one of which included something that could be found nowhere else on the property – a flush toilet. Those were the days of the outhouse. We did not even have a toilet in my parents’ house until a little later. My chores included cutting, splitting and delivering the firewood, and hauling the garbage.
It was not a bad life for a boy, and I look back fondly to those days in many ways. But at the time, there was one thing that bothered me. A friend who was my classmate lived a few hundred feet down the lake. While I had chores to perform each day (for most of the day), my friend did not seem to have any. If I wished to go anywhere on the lake, I had to do so in a rowboat. He, on the other hand, had a speedboat. Technically, it wasn’t his boat; it was his father’s. But it was his to use almost any time he wanted. His father not only supplied the boat, but also the motor and the gas. My friend had an ample supply of friends, many of them good-looking girls. I would wave as my friend sped by, while I returned to my task of washing out boats.3
Don’t get me wrong. While I envied my friend, he was my friend. He was generous, and so I was welcome to drive the boat and to water ski whenever I could. But somehow it all still seemed a bit unfair to me. Why did he have it so easy, while I had to work for what I got? Looking back now, I can see how God used the experiences of these early days to shape my life. It was God’s good hand that brought these things to pass, for my good, and somehow, ultimately, for His glory.
This lesson is about the early days of David’s life and how God prepared him for leadership in the years to come. As I compared the early years of Saul with those of David (what we have of them both), I could not help but think of my growing up years, at least in the way I perceived them. Saul seems to have had it easy, while David had to work hard. Let’s begin by taking a moment to review the early days of Saul’s life, associated with his anointing as Israel’s first king.
We should remember the occasion for the appointment of Saul as Israel’s first king. This is found in 1 Samuel 8. There we are told that Samuel the prophet was elderly, and his two sons were crooks.4 This certainly raised concerns for Israel’s leadership in the future. Thus, the Israelites asked Samuel for a king, but in many ways, this was a pretext.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:4-5).5
This is only part of the story, which then unfolds throughout the rest of the chapter. Samuel is greatly distressed by this request (demand?), but God tells him that it is really a rejection of His leadership as their king.
The Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king” (1 Samuel 8:7).
God then instructs Samuel to inform the people regarding the high cost of “big government.” What the people want is really inferior to what they have had, but at a much higher price. And so Samuel tells the people that their king will cost them a great deal, in taxes, in land, and in sons and daughters. But the people are not dissuaded:
19 But the people refused to heed Samuel’s warning. Instead they said, “No! There will be a king over us! 20 We will be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).
The Israelites having been forewarned, God tells Samuel to give the people what they have requested. (We will see that whenever we demand what God has withheld, we will pay for our folly.)6 Chapters 9 and 10 of 1 Samuel describe the process by which Saul is installed as Israel’s first king.
God was certainly not caught off guard by this request for a king. In the Law of Moses, God had already set down a number of guidelines for the selection and conduct of Israel’s king.7 In 1 Samuel, the installation of Saul as king of Israel will take place in three phases.
This is a most interesting sequence of events, particularly when compared with the account of David’s anointing in chapter 16. Unlike David, Saul was not a mere lad when he was anointed as Israel’s king.8 There was a reason for this – Saul was to assume leadership almost immediately, while David had a more lengthy period of preparation.
In addition to this, we are hard pressed to find anything in Saul’s character which would qualify him for the task of leading the nation Israel. Saul seems to be distinguished only by his looks and his build. Saul was a good looking man, whose height distinguished him from every other Israelite.9 We might say that Saul was Israel’s “Goliath.” Saul’s father, Kish, is presented as a “prominent person” (NET Bible), or a “mighty man of valor” (NASB).10
I believe it is safe to say that Kish was a fairly wealthy man. I don’t think that a poor man would have owned a herd of donkeys, for example.11 Furthermore, we know that Kish had a number of servants, one of whom accompanied Saul on the donkey hunt.12 This donkey chase seems to provide the reader with some indication of Saul’s character. In the first place, Saul does not seem able to find them. No doubt this is part of the divine plan, but one wonders how skillful Saul is at wrangling donkeys – not as skillful, I take it, as David was at caring for his father’s sheep.
After a couple of days of fruitless searching, Saul is eager to give it up and go home.13 Saul’s servant is not as eager to go home empty-handed. It is the servant’s idea to “inquire of God” by consulting the “seer” or “prophet” (Samuel) whom he knew to reside in the city. Why did the thought not occur to Saul? Why does Saul seem ignorant of the presence of the prophet or of his power to help in such cases? My point is that the servant seems better informed regarding spiritual things than does Saul.
This assessment is further strengthened by the account of Saul’s anointing. After the events of chapter 8, there can be little doubt that Samuel will be the one to designate Israel’s first king. No wonder Saul’s uncle is so interested in what took place between Saul and Samuel.14 After Samuel anoints Saul, he tells him the signs which will assure him that God will be with him as king. First, Samuel assures Saul that the donkeys have been found.15 Then he tells Saul that he will encounter three men on their way to worship at Bethel:
3 “As you continue on from there, you will come to the tall tree of Tabor. At that point three men who are going up to God at Bethel will meet you. One of them will be carrying three young goats, one of them will be carrying three round loaves of bread, and one of them will be carrying a container of wine. 4 They will ask you how you’re doing and will give you two loaves of bread. You will accept them” (1 Samuel 10:3-4).
Saul and his servant had already used up their supplies.16 The hearty sacrificial meal with Samuel went a long way toward meeting his needs, but this encounter with these three men resulted in replenishing their supply of bread. God will provide for Saul’s needs, not only for the need to find the donkeys, but also the food needed for their journey home. Surely he will provide when Saul becomes king. But Saul will need wisdom and strength to carry out his duties as king, and thus evidence is given of the Spirit’s presence and power in his life:
5 Afterward you will go to Gibeah of God, where there are Philistine officials. When you enter the town, you will meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place. They will have harps, tambourines, flutes, and lyres, and they will be prophesying. 6 Then the spirit of the Lord will rush upon you and you will prophesy with them. You will be changed into a different person. 7 “When these signs have taken place, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God will be with you” (1 Samuel 10:5-7).
As Saul turned to leave Samuel, something else happened which demonstrated the presence of the Spirit:
9 As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed his inmost person. All these signs happened on that very day. 10 When Saul and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a company of prophets was coming out to meet him. Then the spirit of God rushed upon Saul and he prophesied among them. 11 When everyone who had known him previously saw him prophesying with the prophets, the people all asked one another, “What on earth has happened to the son of Kish? Does even Saul belong with the prophets?” 12 A man who was from there replied, “And who is their father?” Therefore this became a proverb: “Is even Saul among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 10:9-12).
What I want you to notice is the expression of surprise on the part of those who witnessed (or heard about) this incident. The people were incredulous. Seeing Saul among the prophets, prophesying was something so out of the ordinary that people were shocked and almost amused: “Does even Saul belong with the prophets?” I take it that Saul was not considered to be a spiritual man, and thus this evidence of the Spirit in his life was almost too much to believe. Nothing we have seen thus far would incline us to conclude that Saul was a godly man, whose character was a primary factor in God’s choice of him for Israel’s first king. They wanted a man who could lead them into war, and this is what God gave them.
It was clear to Saul that he was to be Israel’s first king, but it was not at all clear to the nation. No doubt word had gotten around that Saul was among the prophets, but God also designated His choice of Saul in a very public manner. Samuel summons the people to Mizpah and begins by reminding them of their sin in demanding a king, thus rejecting God as their King.17
Samuel then drew lots, until Saul was indicated as God’s choice for their king. But when they looked for Saul he was nowhere to be found. God then revealed that Saul was hiding himself in the midst of the baggage. Has the Spirit produced humility in Saul, reminding him of his limitations?18 The people extract him from his hiding place, and as they get a better look at him they realize that he stands head and shoulders above his fellow Israelites. Saul is a giant (who is hiding in the baggage). Some brave men whose hearts God had touched immediately attached themselves to Saul, accompanying him to his home in Gibeah.
There were others, however, whose hearts had not been touched by God. These wicked men were more than skeptical about what Saul would achieve for them. Having seen Saul’s reticence and his hiding among the luggage, they were skeptical about his ability to save them from the dangers they faced as a nation. Humanly speaking, they were right, but God had committed to empower Saul for the task he was given.
Nahash and the Ammonites had been a threat to Israel for some time. Indeed, the threat these Ammonites posed was a contributing factor in Israel’s demand to have a king.19 After Saul had been designated as Israel’s king, Nahash boldly set out to wage war against the people of Jabesh-gilead, unless they were willing to surrender. The people were willing to surrender to Nahash, but this king was not willing to settle for a mere defeat. Along with their surrender, Nahash intended to add the insult of putting out the right eye of every one (of the men?) of Jabesh. The elders of Jabesh asked for a week’s time to see if any of their fellow Israelites would come to their rescue. If not, they promised to surrender.
When word of this reached Saul in Gibeah, the Spirit came upon him powerfully and he became furious. Saul took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them, sending pieces of the oxen throughout Israel, threatening to do the same to the oxen of anyone who failed to show up in defense of the people of Jabesh-gilead. The result was an impressive turnout and a resounding defeat for Nahash and his army – and great popularity for Saul. Saul’s supporters were eager to identify those nay-sayers who had questioned Saul’s ability to deliver them from their enemies. Saul’s response reveals that this was one of his finest hours as the king of Israel. Saul gave the glory to God for their victory and refused to take vengeance upon his opponents on such a glorious occasion. It was at this point that Saul appears to have been officially installed as Israel’s king:
12 Then the people said to Samuel, “Who were the ones asking, ‘Will Saul reign over us?’ Hand over those men so we may execute them!” 13 But Saul said, “No one will be killed on this day. For today the Lord has given Israel a victory!” 14 Samuel said to the people, “Come on! Let’s go to Gilgal and renew the kingship there.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, where they established Saul as king in the Lord’s presence. They offered up peace offerings there in the Lord’s presence. Saul and all the Israelites were very happy (1 Samuel 11:12-15).
This is as good as it gets for Saul. He will deliver Israel from many of their enemies,20 but he does not appear to be a spiritual man or even a man of good character. He was what the people wanted and also what they deserved. From here on, Saul will serve as the backdrop for David, a man against whom David’s character and conduct are rather consistently contrasted.
Things quickly went wrong with Saul’s reign as Israel’s first king, as we can see in chapters 13-15.21 Rather than wait for Samuel as instructed,22 Saul proceeded to offer the burnt offering and the peace offerings. This disobedience resulted in a rebuke from God through Samuel and, as a consequence, Saul was told that his kingdom would not endure:
13 Then Samuel said to Saul, “You have made a foolish choice! You have not obeyed the commandment that the Lord your God gave you. Had you done that, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever! 14 But now your kingdom will not continue! The Lord has sought out for himself a man who is loyal to him and the Lord has appointed him to be leader over his people, for you have not obeyed what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
Chapter 14 is most interesting. While Saul is shown to vacillate and to make foolish decisions, Jonathan is shown to be a man of faith and courage, a man a lot like David. No wonder they will become close friends. Jonathan is a man so much like David that he could very well have been a great king had his father been killed in battle or been removed in some other way. But David was God’s choice; David was also of the line of Judah, from whom the Messiah would come.23
If this wasn’t enough, Saul disobeyed again, and this time there was no excuse – though Saul did his best to contrive one. God commanded Saul to assemble the army of Israel and utterly destroy the Amalekites, because of their treatment of the Israelites as they sought to enter the Promised Land:
2 Here is what the Lord of hosts says: ‘I carefully observed how the Amalekites opposed Israel along the way when Israel came up from Egypt. 3 So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death – man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3).
Saul did obey partially, but not completely, which is really disobedience:
7 Then Saul struck down the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, which is next to Egypt. 8 He captured King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but he executed all Agag’s people with the sword. 9 However, Saul and the army spared Agag, along with the best of the flock, the cattle, the fatlings, and the lambs, as well as everything else that was of value. They were not willing to slaughter them. But they did slaughter everything that was despised and worthless (1 Samuel 15:7-9).
It was definitely time for a new king, as God had already indicated in chapter 13:
“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 13:14, ESV).
God rejected Saul for a king who was “after His own heart.” It is time for Samuel to stop grieving for Saul and to get on with designating Israel’s next king (and Saul’s replacement).
1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long do you intend to mourn for Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with olive oil and go! I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem, for I have selected a king for myself from among his sons.” 2 Samuel replied, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me!” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you should do. You will anoint for me the one I point out to you” (1 Samuel 16:1-3).
Samuel’s loyalties run deep. Yet the man to whom he is so loyal (Saul) is also the man he fears will kill him if he hears what he is about to do – designate another man as king of Israel. (Samuel’s fears are shown to be well founded by the way he was met by the elders of Bethlehem in verse 4.) Saul has become a Herod, who will kill any challengers to his throne. But God gives instructions to Samuel that will enable him to go about his task with a measure of privacy. Samuel is to go to Bethlehem, where he will perform a sacrifice, not unlike the one at which Saul was designated king.
Jesse and seven of his sons were invited to the sacrifice. When Samuel looked upon Eliab, Jesse’s firstborn son, he was sure that this was the one God had chosen as king. After all, he was Jesse’s firstborn; this is the son who would normally assume headship in the family at the father’s demise. From what we read, Eliab seemed to possess other Saul-like qualities:
6 When they arrived, Samuel noticed Eliab and said to himself, “Surely, here before the Lord stands his chosen king!” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:6-7).
Would we not rightly conclude that Eliab was, as it were, “tall, dark, and handsome”? But God was not about to appoint another Saul. God was most interested in the king’s heart. And so beginning from the oldest and working downward in age, Jesse had all his sons pass by Samuel. Samuel was perplexed because God did not indicate any of these men as His choice for king. And so he asked Jesse if he had any other sons. This is where David comes into the picture. David was not invited because he was considered too young. He was out tending the flock while his older brothers attended the sacrifice. But when David was summoned, it was he whom God indicated as His choice. Samuel anointed David, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in a mighty way. This was done in the presence of Jesse and his other sons, so they were informed that David was God’s choice, rather than any of them.
In my opinion, the remaining verses of 1 Samuel 16, verses 14-23, serve as a kind of corollary to the first 13 verses. The exact time frame of verses 14-23 is not clear to me. Notice how verse 14 begins:
Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him (1 Samuel 16:14).
The Spirit of the LORD had 24 turned away from Saul. The reader is surely to make the connection between this statement and that of verse 13, where we are told that the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David. I believe that the logical connection is clear, but I am not certain about the chronological connection. In other words, I don’t believe that we should necessarily assume that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and went directly to David. I am more inclined to think that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul some time before he was anointed by Samuel. Saul’s disobedience in chapter 13 seems to have occurred shortly after Saul’s inauguration; his disobedience in chapter 15 is sometime later, perhaps shortly before David was to be anointed. Some time would have lapsed in between these two great sins of Saul, and this may be when the Spirit departed from him and the “evil spirit from the Lord” came upon him.
Verses 14-23 seem to accomplish at least a couple things. First, a logical connection is made between the Spirit of the Lord departing from Saul and the Spirit’s rushing upon David. Surely this serves to underscore the fact that God is about to remove Saul and replace him with David. Second, the closing verses of chapter 16 reveal the providence of God in preparing David for his reign as Israel’s king. David is a young lad, whose resumé would have been short and simple: shepherd. By serving Saul as he did, David became familiar with “the ways of a king.” He observed the way Saul ruled and learned royal etiquette. As Saul’s armor bearer, David also learned how to be a warrior and military leader. This was on the job training, as close to the king as any person could get.
Third, there is also a strange irony here. David is employed by the king to calm the king whenever the evil spirit troubled him. Was David’s music and manner so inspired by the Spirit that the same Spirit that once empowered Saul now comforted him through the ministry of his replacement? Beyond this, David has been designated as Israel’s next king and Saul’s replacement. David is then chosen by Saul to be his armor bearer. Would we not agree that David was, more than anyone else, the key to Saul’s survival or demise? David was something like the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys, while Saul was like Tony Romo, quarterback for the Cowboys. If the offensive line fails to do its job well, Romo is flattened. All David had to do was to slack off a bit and Saul would have been history. The one who will replace Saul as king is the one who has the job of protecting him.
Having briefly surveyed the events of David’s anointing and preparation in 1 Samuel 16, let us also look for a moment at another aspect of David’s preparation as described in chapter 17. We take up at the place where David has been brought before Saul because he has offered to go up against Goliath:
31 When David’s words were overheard and reported to Saul, he called for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone be discouraged. Your servant will go and fight this Philistine!” 33 But Saul replied to David, “You aren’t able to go against this Philistine and fight him! You’re just a boy! He has been a warrior from his youth!” 34 David replied to Saul, “Your servant has been a shepherd for his father’s flock. Whenever a lion or bear would come and carry off a sheep from the flock, 35 I would go out after it, strike it down, and rescue the sheep from its mouth. If it rose up against me, I would grab it by its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has struck down both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them. For he has defied the armies of the living God!” 37 David went on to say, “The Lord who delivered me from the lion and the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” Then Saul said to David, “Go! The Lord will be with you” (1 Samuel 17:31-37).
These verses tell me as much about Saul as they do about David. Saul, Israel’s Goliath, cannot work up the courage to fight the Philistine giant, but he is eager to talk to anyone who would dare to do so. The problem is that this “warrior” is but a boy. David assures Saul that he has had “combat experience.” Granted, David had not fought any giants, like Goliath, but he had waged war on some dangerous beasts that had sought to steal some of his sheep.
I want you to pay special attention to David’s wording here, because it is easy to overlook his choice of words. David is not saying that he once killed a bear, and another time he killed a lion. He is saying that he has killed both bears and lions. Thus his years of shepherding have served to prepare him for this battle with Goliath. In the course of caring for his flock he has had occasion to deal with both bears and lions: “Whenever a lion or a bear would come and carry off a sheep. . . .”25 Goliath’s boastful words are no more intimidating than the roar of an angry lion or the growling of a hungry bear about to be deprived of its meal. David went hand to paw with these deadly creatures, and he always prevailed. No lamb chops were served to wildlife on his watch.
But David is not taking credit for this, as though it was all his doing. David made it clear to Saul that it was the Lord who delivered him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear. And consequently he was confident that God would deliver him from the hand of “this Philistine.”26 David could be certain about this because this “uncircumcised Philistine” had “defied the armies of the living God.”27 David had no doubt that God would defend His name by destroying this loudmouth blasphemer.
One additional thought comes to mind, which would have added to David’s confidence, were he to fight Goliath. Assuming that he had already been anointed by Samuel, David had the power of the Spirit of the Lord to enable him to prevail over Goliath. Furthermore, since David was God’s anointed, He would no more allow an uncircumcised Philistine to kill His king than He would a lion or a bear. Divine enablement and divine security gives a man who trusts in God great courage.
And so Saul sends David off to battle with his armor and this blessing: “Go! The Lord will be with you.” Did Saul really intend to send David into battle under the conditions declared by Goliath? Goliath had challenged Israel to send just one warrior to fight him. If that warrior prevailed by killing Goliath (Goliath seems to promise), then the whole Philistine army will surrender. If, however, Goliath kills Israel’s champion, then the Israelite army must surrender. It is obvious that the Philistines do not seek to surrender, but they certainly do seek to escape.
Saul did not have what it takes to be king. He did not have the character, and he did not really have the experience necessary for the job. He was given the Spirit, but he clearly chose to follow the desires of the flesh, rather than the promptings of the Spirit. In the end, God removed His Spirit from Saul and sent an evil spirit in His place. And God removed Saul and put a man after His own heart on his throne.
Even before he became king, Saul seemed to have it all. Apparently the only child of a well-to-do Benjamite, his life was free from the trials of life which David had to face – alone. David, on the other hand, was the youngest of eight sons. He got the least desirable job – that of tending a small flock of sheep – a job which had many dangers and also many lonely hours. But looking back, we can see that God wanted His king to be a shepherd, and what better preparation is there than shepherding a flock of sheep? Moses, too, was given years of experience shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law in preparation for the task of leading God’s flock out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
Who would have thought that David’s early years were divinely ordained, so that his experiences would prepare him for the awesome task of facing Goliath, or dealing with the wrath of a jealous king (Saul), or with the challenges of leading a nation? God began to prepare David at a very early age. Indeed, I believe that it would be safe to say that God began to prepare David for his mission in life while he was still in the womb:
13 Certainly you made my mind and heart;
you wove me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing.
You knew me thoroughly;
15 my bones were not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret and sewed together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb.
All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll
before one of them came into existence (Psalm 139:13-16).
4 The Lord said to me,
5 “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I chose you.
Before you were born I set you apart.
I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5).
Consider the hand of God in David’s life. God ordained that David would be the last of eight sons to be born to Jesse. He ordained that because of this, the task of keeping his father’s small flock of sheep would fall to David. God divinely guided Samuel to anoint David as Israel’s next king, and then He gave David His Spirit years before he became king so that he could kill the bears and the lions that sought to steal his father’s sheep, and so that he could stand up to Goliath in battle. God gave David hours of solitude, so that he could meditate upon Him, so that he could become skillful on the lyre, and so that he could learn to use his sling with great precision. And being skillful in these things brought David into close contact with Saul, so that he could learn how to rule. Sometimes this would be by imitating what Saul did; often, it may have been by seeing how badly Saul did his job. But in all these things, God was shaping David for the years and the tasks ahead.
This is not just true of David, years ago. It is also true for Christians today. Dr. S. Lewis Johnson was one of the great preachers of his day. He was the head of the New Testament (Greek) Department at Dallas Theological Seminary for about 25 years. Before S. Lewis Johnson was saved, he had to choose his college major. He was a very fine golfer, and so he chose to major in the one subject that would leave his afternoons free for golfing – Greek. Then he came to faith through the ministry of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, and the rest is history. God was preparing Dr. Johnson for his life’s calling before he was even saved.
My friend, if you are a Christian, God has a purpose and a calling for your life. Do you know what that is? You should, and in the providence of God you shall. God fashioned you in your mother’s womb so that you could carry out His calling. God has likewise shaped you through your experiences, beginning with your childhood. No doubt these experiences did not appear to be a part of a bigger plan at the time. And very likely a number of these experiences, like those of David, were not pleasurable. But as I look back on my life, I can see the hand of God shaping and preparing me for what He has called me to do. If you are a Christian, you should begin to see God’s hand in your life as well.
In learning to be a faithful shepherd, David not only learned to lead the nation Israel as a shepherd; David became a prototype of the Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd:
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them – to the shepherds: ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! 4 You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them. . . . 20 “‘Therefore, this is what the sovereign Lord says to them: Look, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with your side and your shoulder, and thrust your horns at all the weak sheep until you scatter them abroad, 22 I will save my sheep; they will no longer be prey. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will set one shepherd over them, and he will feed them – namely, my servant David. He will feed them and will be their shepherd. 24 I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken! (Ezekiel 34:1-4, 20-24)
We don’t know exactly when David came to faith in the God of Israel, but his relationship with God seems to have grown greatly during his early years as a shepherd. A relationship with God begins by embracing Him as our Shepherd:
1 A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
2 He takes me to lush pastures,
he leads me to refreshing water.
3 He restores my strength.
He leads me down the right paths for the sake of his reputation.
4 Even when I must walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff reassure me.
5 You prepare a feast before me in plain sight of my enemies.
You refresh my head with oil;
my cup is completely full.
6 Surely your goodness and faithfulness will pursue me all my days,
and I will live in the Lord’s house for the rest of my life (Psalm 23:1-6).
The Lord Jesus is the “Good Shepherd,” in whom we must trust to have eternal life.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. 13 Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away (John 10:11-13).
He accomplished salvation for lost sinners by Himself becoming (metaphorically) a lamb – the Lamb of God:
1 Who would have believed what we just heard? When was the Lord’s power revealed through him? 2 He sprouted up like a twig before God, like a root out of parched soil; he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him. 3 He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant. 4 But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. 5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed. 6 All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him. 7 He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth. 8 He was led away after an unjust trial – but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded. 9 They intended to bury him with criminals, but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb, because he had committed no violent deeds, nor had he spoken deceitfully (Isaiah 53:1-9, emphasis mine).
It is no wonder that John the Baptist could introduce Jesus in this way:
26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not recognize, 27 who is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal!” 28 These things happened in Bethany across the Jordan River where John was baptizing. 29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “ Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining – this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God” (John 1:26-34, emphasis mine).
When we have come to trust in Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” the One who died for our sins, and Who was raised from the dead, then we will be able to look back on our life and see how God prepared us from the time of our conception for the task for which He has saved us. If you have trusted in Jesus, then God saved you for a purpose. He has a specific work for you to do for which He has prepared you. I urge you to make this a matter of prayer and to seek those ministries which God brings your way.
If you are a young person who has trusted in Jesus, I want to suggest to you that God is already at work in your life. Learn the lessons God has for you. Learn to trust Him and to carry out your responsibilities faithfully, depending upon the power of His Spirit within you. This will prepare you for the days ahead and the calling of God for your life. Be careful about the decisions that you make and the habits you form. All of these will follow you into your adult years. Bad habits will be hindrances which you will have to overcome (by God’s grace). Godly disciplines will prepare you for the challenges that lie ahead of you. Recognize that God is already at work in your life as a young person, preparing you for what He has for you in the days to come.
God’s leadership development program is one that begins very early in your life. It is not accomplished in the classroom, or through a formal program (though such programs can be very beneficial); it takes place in the school of life. God puts us in difficult and challenging circumstances to deepen our trust in Jesus and to strengthen our commitment to Him. God’s program involves servanthood and suffering. God is not as interested in our outward appearance as He is in our hearts. Let us look to Him to make us men and women who are people after God’s own heart.
1 Copyright © 2007 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the Becoming a Leader after God’s Heart: Studies in the Life of David, a mini-series of Following Jesus in a Me-First World, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on March 11, 2007. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
2 This is the cabin in which my wife Jeannette and I lived the first summer we were married. It now belongs to us. Its tax value is estimated at $750, and grass four feet high is growing on the roof.
3 I’m sure my memory of these events is distorted, but this is the way it seemed at the time.
4 1 Samuel 8:1-3.
5 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
6 See Psalm 106:15.
7 See Deuteronomy 17:14-20.
8 In 1 Samuel 13:1, the manuscript evidence is problematic (actually, it is missing) here as to Saul’s age when he was anointed king and as to how long he reigned. My old NASB says Paul was forty; the most recent NASB (95) says he was thirty, along with many other translations. The ESV doesn’t even venture a guess at what Saul’s age was. My point here is that Saul was no young lad when he became king of Israel, as David was when he was anointed by Samuel.
9 1 Samuel 9:2.
10 The marginal note in the NASB indicates that this may also refer to one’s wealth or influence, but in its most common usage, it refers to a man who has distinguished himself in battle.
11 The text is clear that these are female donkeys. While Jeremiah 2:24 speaks of wild donkeys, this text may explain to us why these “female” donkeys were on the run.
12 1 Samuel 9:3.
13 1 Samuel 9:5.
14 1 Samuel 10:14-16.
15 1 Samuel 10:2.
16 1 Samuel 9:7.
17 1 Samuel 10:18-19.
18 See 1 Samuel 15:17.
19 See 1 Samuel 12:12-13.
20 See 1 Samuel 14:47-48.
21 In the light of 1 Samuel 14:47-48, it would be wrong to conclude that Saul’s reign was merely a sequence of failures. He did have many successes in leading Israel in battle. Chapters 13-15 are not intended to characterize Saul’s military career, but to reveal his moral and spiritual failures which led to the kingdom being taken from him and given to David.
22 1 Samuel 10:8.
23 Genesis 49:10.
24 The translations differ here as to whether the Spirit had (already) turned away from Saul, or had just recently done so (as indicated by the NASB and others: “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul”).
25 1 Samuel 17:34.
26 1 Samuel 17:37.
27 1 Samuel 17:36.
Not long ago I was watching Tim Keller on a video. I did not watch the entire video nor do I remember the title of the message; I can only tell you that it was on the internet. But in that message he made some remarks that struck home with me. He pointed out how often our sermons are man-centered, rather than God-centered, and he specifically called attention to the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. He commented that he had never heard a God-centered sermon on David and Goliath, and yet that surely is the primary emphasis of the story.
I think Keller is right, and I have taken up his challenge as I have been preparing this message.
I have chosen to do this brief biographical series on David as a call to men in the church to be spiritual leaders. We can learn both from David’s faith, as well as from his failures. This lesson and the next, I will focus on the war between the Israelites and the Philistines in 1 Samuel 17, the outcome of which is determined by David’s confidence in meeting the challenge of Goliath. In this message, I want to deal with the passage from a God-centered perspective. In the next message, I will not set God aside, but I will focus on those lessons which we can learn from David.
The chapter begins with a description of the setting for this confrontation. The Philistines have invaded Judah, with the intent of waging war against the Israelites. The scene before us is found in the hills between Jerusalem/Bethlehem and the Philistine coast along the Mediterranean Sea. The Israelite army is encamped on one hillside, and the Philistines on another, with a valley in between.2 For forty days, it has been a war of words, with only one man doing most all of the talking – Goliath.
Goliath is the Philistine’s champion and a mighty big one at that. He stands over nine feet tall, and his armor is heavy enough to make one tired just reading about it.3 Once in the morning and once in the evening Goliath presents himself and calls out to the Israelite soldiers stationed on the opposite hillside. He defiantly mocks the Israelites and their God.
Day after day for forty days Goliath has uttered the same challenge:
8 Goliath stood and called to Israel’s troops, “Why do you come out to prepare for battle? Am I not the Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose for yourselves a man so he may come down to me! 9 If he is able to fight with me and strike me down, we will become your servants. But if I prevail against him and strike him down, you will become our servants and will serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “I defy Israel’s troops this day! Give me a man so we can fight each other!” (1 Samuel 17:8-10).
According to Goliath, there was no need for a great deal of bloodshed. Why not let this conflict be settled by a fight between two champions: Goliath, and whoever Israel designates to be their champion? We all know that Saul should have been Israel’s champion. He was the king of Israel, who was expected to lead the army into battle.4 Furthermore, he was the man who stood head and shoulders above any other Israelite.5 But Saul was afraid and had no inclination to rise to the challenge put forth by Goliath, and his fear was contagious; all of the Israelite soldiers were afraid of Goliath and fled from him.6
It is somewhat puzzling that this would have gone on for forty days. It almost seems that neither side really wants to fight. The Israelites seem to have been outclassed by the Philistines when it came to weapons:
19 A blacksmith could not be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines had said, “This will prevent the Hebrews from making swords and spears.” 20 So all Israel had to go down to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened. 21 They charged two-thirds of a shekel to sharpen plowshares and cutting instruments, and a third of a shekel to sharpen picks and axes, and to set ox goads. 22 So on the day of the battle no sword or spear was to be found in the hand of anyone in the army that was with Saul and Jonathan. No one but Saul and his son Jonathan had them (1 Samuel 13:19-22, emphasis mine).
Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven (1 Samuel 13:5, NASB 95).
The Philistines may well have outnumbered the Israelites, as well as outclassed them in terms of weaponry. It does not appear that the Israelites had iron weapons (except for Saul and Jonathan), nor did they have chariots, as did the Philistines. This would have caused the Israelites to have been very reluctant to engage the Philistines in battle in the valley, on level ground. They would have wanted to wage war in the hills, where chariots would be of no use and where giants, laden down with armor and weapons, would find it difficult to navigate. (Can you envision a nine-foot tall soldier, climbing uphill, over rocks and through the trees?) Besides, these Judean hills would have been familiar territory to the Israelite soldiers, who could wage a kind of gorilla warfare from there.
The Philistines were “flatlanders,” who lived on the coastal plains. There, chariots would have been an awesome part of their weaponry. But these folks would not have been nearly as confident fighting in the hill country, without the use of their chariots. Other battles make this point clear to the reader:
Now the advisers of the king of Syria said to him: “ Their God is a god of the mountains. That’s why they overpowered us. But if we fight them in the plains, we will certainly overpower them” (1 Kings 20:23, emphasis mine).
The battle there was spread out over the whole area, and the forest consumed more soldiers than the sword devoured that day (2 Samuel 18:8).
In addition to Israel’s military advantage of fighting in the hills, the Philistines may well have remembered the beating they had taken in their last conflict with Israel, fought on similar terrain.7
Whatever the reason for this protracted conflict, David’s three oldest brothers were among the soldiers who “fought” for Israel. Since David’s father, Jesse, was advanced in years, he found it necessary to send David back and forth from the field of battle. This was so that David could deliver food and supplies to his brothers and to their commander. It was also to gain a first-hand assessment as to how the war was going, and, more specifically, how Jesse’s three sons were doing.8
Leaving his flock in the care of another,9 David arose early in the morning and made his way some 10-15 miles to the place of battle west of Bethlehem. He arrived just in time to see the daily drama unfold. The two armies assembled in battle formation and Goliath stepped forward, uttering his defiant challenge, and then feigned (it seems) breaching the Israelite lines. The Israelite soldiers fled in fear. David witnessed all of this, and when the crisis passed once again, the Israelite soldiers made a point of telling David what the king had promised any man brave enough to fight Goliath and kill him:
The men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is coming up? He does so to defy Israel. But the king will make the man who can strike him down very wealthy! He will give him his daughter in marriage, and he will make his father’s house exempt from tax obligations in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:25).
David’s response to this offer angered his oldest brother, but apparently not others. News of David’s response to Goliath and Saul’s offer reached Saul, who sent for David. David encouraged Saul, volunteering to fight Goliath. After satisfying (apparently) Saul’s concerns, David faced Goliath and killed him. (There are a number of details we will pass by in this message, which we will address in subsequent messages.) For the moment, we want to consider this text from a God-centered point of view. I believe we can do so by focusing our attention on that which set David apart from everyone else – his faith in the greatness of God.
We should begin by observing that giants are not something new here, something that the Israelites have never faced before. We should recall that it was the “giants” in Canaan that prompted the Israelites to rebel against Moses and against God, and refuse to possess the Promised Land:
26 They [the 12 spies] came back to Moses and Aaron and to the whole community of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole community and showed the fruit of the land. 27 They told Moses, “We went to the land where you sent us. It is indeed flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 But the inhabitants are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. Moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the land of the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.” 30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses, saying, “Let us go up and occupy it, for we are well able to conquer it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “ We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are!” 32 Then they presented the Israelites with a discouraging report of the land they had investigated, saying, “The land that we passed through to investigate is a land that devours its inhabitants. All the people we saw there are of great stature. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak came from the Nephilim), and we seemed liked grasshoppers both to ourselves and to them” (Numbers 13:26-33, emphasis mine).
The Israelites rightly perceived the “giants” of the land of Canaan to be bigger than they were. But they were wrong to look upon the “giants” as though they were bigger than God. And so after this generation of Israelites passed away in the wilderness, their offspring were poised to enter the land of Canaan, where they would face the giants. Here is what God said to them through Moses:
17 If you think, “These nations are more numerous than I – how can I dispossess them?” 18 you must not fear them. You must carefully recall what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt, 19 the great judgments you saw, the signs and wonders, the strength and power by which he brought you out – thus the Lord your God will do to all the people you fear. 20 Furthermore, the Lord your God will release hornets among them until the very last ones who hide from you perish. 21 You must not tremble in their presence, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You will not be allowed to destroy them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will throw them into a great panic until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to resist you until you destroy them (Deuteronomy 7:17-24).
1 Listen, Israel: Today you are about to cross the Jordan so you can dispossess the nations there, people greater and stronger than you who live in large cities with extremely high fortifications. 2 They include the Anakites, a numerous and tall people whom you know about and of whom it is said, “Who is able to resist the Anakites?” 3 Understand today that the Lord your God who goes before you is a devouring fire; he will defeat and subdue them before you. You will dispossess and destroy them quickly just as he has told you” (Deuteronomy 9:1-3).
I find it amusing (as well as amazing) that God chose Caleb (one of the oldest of those to enter the land of Canaan – and also one of the two who gave a good report at Kadesh-barnea) to be the one to drive out the three giant sons of Anak:
Caleb drove out from there three Anakites – Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, descendants of Anak (Joshua 15:14).
Later in David’s reign as king, other giants would be put to death by David’s men.10
We must also realize that there are other “giants” besides oversized men. Israel was a David-sized nation:
7 “It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the Lord favored and chose you – for in fact you were the least numerous of all peoples. 8 Rather it is because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the promise he solemnly vowed to your ancestors that the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
This nation had to deal with “giant-sized” nations like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. When the Egyptian army set out in hot pursuit of the Israelites, God wiped out this mighty force without one Israelite doing battle.11
We also recall that God foretold this very time when Israel would demand a king, like all the surrounding nations:
14 When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,” 15 you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king – you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. 16 Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the Lord has said you must never again return that way. 17 Furthermore, he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside [ lest his heart turn away, NASB], and he must not accumulate much silver and gold. 18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. 20 Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens [ that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen, NASB] or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20, emphasis mine).
Look at how these instructions concerning Israel’s future kings hits the mark (as biblical prophecy always does). First, we see that God foretold the sinful demand of Israel to have a king, “like all the nations.” That is precisely what we read in 1 Samuel 8. Next, we see that God is very concerned with the heart of the king. He must not marry many wives (as David, Solomon, and others did) because these (foreign) women would turn the heart of the king from God. And so it happened, for example, to Solomon.12 In addition to this, God warned future kings not to accumulate wealth and weapons. God wanted the kings of Israel to trust in Him, not in their wealth or weapons. And finally God instructed the kings of Israel to write out a copy of the law and then to read them continually. This was so that he might be intent on obeying God’s Word, and so that his heart would not be lifted up above his fellow Israelites. If only God’s kings had obeyed these instructions; how many difficulties they would have avoided.
Samuel was right to be distressed over Israel’s demand for a king. His words in 1 Samuel 8 are clarified by his instruction in chapter 12:
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have.” 6 But this request displeased Samuel, for they said, “Give us a king to lead us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king. 8 Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected me and have served other gods. This is what they are also doing to you” (1 Samuel 8:4-8, emphasis mine).
Here God tells Samuel that Israel’s demand for a king is not merely a rejection of him (Samuel); it is a rejection of God. He also indicates that this is consistent with Israel’s idolatry, from Egypt onward. In 1 Samuel 12, this is explained in greater detail:
6 Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is the one who chose Moses and Aaron and who brought your ancestors up from the land of Egypt. 7 Now take your positions, so I may confront you before the Lord regarding all the Lord’s just actions toward you and your ancestors. 8 When Jacob entered Egypt, your ancestors cried out to the Lord. The Lord sent Moses and Aaron, and they led your ancestors out of Egypt and settled them in this place. 9 “But they forgot the Lord their God, so he gave them into the hand of Sisera, the general in command of Hazor’s army, and into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. 10 Then they cried out to the Lord and admitted, ‘We have sinned, for we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the images of Ashtoreth. Now deliver us from the hand of our enemies so that we may serve you.’ 11 So the Lord sent Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel, and he delivered you from the hand of the enemies all around you, and you were able to live securely. 12 “ When you saw that King Nahash of the Ammonites was advancing against you, you said to me, ‘No! A king will rule over us’ – even though the Lord your God is your king! 13 Now look! Here is the king you have chosen – the one that you asked for! Look, the Lord has given you a king! 14 If you fear the Lord, serving him and obeying him and not rebelling against what he says, and if both you and the king who rules over you follow the Lord your God, all will be well. 15 But if you don’t obey the Lord and rebel against what the Lord says, the hand of the Lord will be against both you and your king (1 Samuel 12:6-15, emphasis mine).
God is about to chasten the Israelites to demonstrate the evil they have committed by demanding a king. Beginning with Moses and Aaron, God declares that He has always faithfully provided a deliverer for His people. Moving on from Moses and Aaron, Samuel speaks of the judges that God raised up to deliver the nation once in the land. He points out that the oppression the Israelites experienced was due to their idolatry. Even so, when Israel acknowledged their sin and cried to the Lord for help, He provided a deliverer. The last of the “judges” Samuel mentions is himself. This brings Samuel to the present moment and to a much fuller explanation of what we have already read (and what Samuel has already said) in chapter 8.
Israel’s immediate threat has come from the Ammonites, and their king, Nahash. The Israelites knew that he was advancing in chapter 8, and they did not trust God to continue to deliver them through Samuel. Knowing that Samuel was old, they seemed to fear that he would not be able to deliver them. If they had a king, the Israelites reasoned in their unbelief, he could go before them into battle. And he could provide something else – a dynasty. There would be no doubt as to who their “deliverer” might be – he would be the king’s son, his heir. They would not need to rely upon God to lead them, to deliver them, or to raise up a new deliverer. And as such, their king would be their idol, the one in whom Israel put their trust.13
This was idolatry, for which Israel must reap a small measure of divine judgment. And so we read that God brought about a thunderstorm to destroy their wheat crop to reveal His displeasure. Who could “deliver” them from God’s wrath? Samuel was their only hope, and thus they pled with him to intercede for them:
19 All the people said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God on behalf of us – your servants – so we won’t die, for we have added to all our sins by asking for a king.” 20 Then Samuel said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. You have indeed sinned. However, don’t turn aside from the Lord. Serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 You should not turn aside after empty things that can’t profit and can’t deliver, since they are empty. 22 The Lord will not abandon his people because he wants to uphold his great reputation. The Lord was pleased to make you his own people. 23 As far as I am concerned, far be it from me to sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you! I will instruct you in the way that is good and upright. 24 However, fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. Just look at the great things he has done for you! 25 But if you continue to do evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:19-25).
The man they had rejected (Samuel) was the only one who could intercede for them with the God they had rejected. They acknowledged their sin, and Samuel promised to continue to intercede for them and to instruct them in the way they should go. If they and their king reject Him and persist in their sin, God will sweep them away in judgment.
The point in all this was that from the very outset (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) the matter of Israel having a king was really about God. Israel’s king should be a man whom the Lord chooses.14 He should be a man who trusts in God (not in his wealth or weapons), and who is faithful to obey God’s commandments. When Israel demanded a king, it was because they did not trust God. They wanted someone they could see leading them into battle. They wanted to know who their next deliverer would be (part of the dynasty).
When we come to the account of the contest between David and Goliath, we find that only one person saw this situation from a divine point of view. The Israelites had entrusted themselves to a man (Saul), rather than to God. But when this man failed to measure up to Saul (in physical stature) and to God (in character and might), then the Israelites were in serious trouble. No wonder they fled when challenged by Goliath. No wonder no one was willing to take on Goliath.
David saw things differently, as we can see from three crucial texts in 1 Samuel 17. The first is what David said to his fellow Israelites:
David asked the men who were standing near him, “What will be done for the man who strikes down this Philistine and frees Israel from this humiliation? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)
What we see in the text, and what irritated his older brother Eliab, was that David kept asking about the incentive Saul had offered to anyone who will kill Goliath. I don’t think it is because David is unclear about what the offer is or that he has doubts about the offer. I believe it is because David cannot understand why no one has stepped forward to win the prize offered by Saul.15
When I was in college, my two roommates and I lived in the upstairs of an old house just across the street from the college. An older man and his wife lived on the first floor. He asked one roommate and myself to help him move an item of furniture downstairs. This we did, and when we had finished this small task, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a five dollar bill, and offered it to me. Now I must explain that I was working my way through school, and five dollars was a lot of money. I snatched that five dollars so fast it even amazed my roommate. (Oh, yes. I did say, “thanks.”)
It was no great task in terms of time or effort, and the reward was generous (though I’m sure that fellow had no idea I would accept his gift). Could you imagine anyone turning down such a request? I believe David was amazed by the fact that while everyone, it seems, knew of the king’s offer, no one seemed willing to accept it. And the reason is simple: they were afraid to do so.
David’s words explain why he was so perplexed: “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26) This Philistine (uncircumcised at that) had dared to defy (indeed, to persistently defy) the armies of the living God. This wasn’t about Goliath; it wasn’t about his size or his skill as a warrior. This wasn’t even about David (in one sense). This was about God, about His name, His glory, His honor, His power. This Philistine dared to defy the living God. Goliath’s trust was in his gods (see verse 43), so it was but another instance of the “no-gods” of the heathen versus the living God of Israel.16 Let someone, anyone, stand up and prove that the living God is greater than all the no-gods of the heathen and the loud-mouthed bullies like Goliath thrown in for good measure.
In the first text cited above (1 Samuel 17:26), David was speaking with the Israelite soldiers. Now, in this second text David is speaking to King Saul, who did not have the faith to stand up to Goliath:
31 When David’s words were overheard and reported to Saul, he called for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone be discouraged [“Let no man’s heart fail because of him,” NKJV]. Your servant will go and fight this Philistine!” 33 But Saul replied to David, “You aren’t able to go against this Philistine and fight him! You’re just a boy! He has been a warrior from his youth!” 34 David replied to Saul, “Your servant has been a shepherd for his father’s flock. Whenever a lion or bear would come and carry off a sheep from the flock, 35 I would go out after it, strike it down, and rescue the sheep from its mouth. If it rose up against me, I would grab it by its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has struck down both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them. For he has defied the armies of the living God!” 37 David went on to say, “ The Lord who delivered me from [the paw of] the lion and [the paw of] the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” Then Saul said to David, “Go! The Lord will be with you” (1 Samuel 17:31-37, emphasis mine).
David does not rebuke Saul for his lack of faith or leadership. David was not even a soldier, but only a young shepherd boy who had come to deliver food and to bring a report home to his father. But he does exhort the king and all the others not to panic.17 David does not exhort the king to act; instead, David volunteers to act himself. He will fight this Philistine.
Saul’s fears not only included himself; he was fearful for David. How could he, such a young lad, inexperienced in the ways of war, fight a seasoned professional like Goliath?18 David’s defense to Saul is two-fold, and both elements are God-centered. Just as he had done with the Israelite soldiers, David points out why Goliath must be fought and why his defeat is a certainty: “He has defied the armies of the living God!” (verse 36). David was certain that the living God would not allow such blasphemy to go unanswered. Goliath was history; the only question was, “Who will be the one who is privileged to silence him?”
But David’s faith is not merely theoretical; David has experienced the power of God in his life as a shepherd. The assumption (of Eliab and of Saul) was that David was a young and inexperienced lad, without any experience in warfare. All David had done was to watch a small flock of his father’s sheep. True enough, David grants, but his shepherding experience was such that it gave him great confidence that he could handle the likes of Goliath.
The Spirit of God had rushed upon David powerfully19 at the time of his anointing. This same expression is found three times in the Book of Judges, describing the power that the Spirit gave Samson:
5 Samson went down to Timnah. When he approached the vineyards of Timnah, he saw a roaring young lion attacking him. 6 The Lord’s spirit empowered him and he tore the lion in two with his bare hands as easily as one would tear a young goat. But he did not tell his father or mother what he had done (Judges 14:5-6, emphasis mine).
The Lord’s spirit empowered him. He went down to Ashkelon and murdered thirty men. He took their clothes and gave them to the men who had solved the riddle. He was furious as he went back home (Judges 14:19).
When he arrived in Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they approached him. But the Lord’s spirit empowered him. The ropes around his arms were like flax dissolving in fire, and they melted away from his hands (Judges 15:14).
When the Spirit of God rushed upon Samson, it empowered him to tear a lion in two with his bare hands, to kill thirty Philistines, and to snap the ropes by which he was bound. This is the same Spirit that rushed upon David. I take it that this happened before David did battle with bears and lions, on the job. David was God’s anointed king; He would not allow anything or anyone to kill His anointed. David was also divinely empowered by the Spirit. David took his shepherding responsibility seriously. When a bear or a lion sought to have lunch at his expense, David refused. He grabbed the animal with his bare hands and killed it. If God had proven Himself faithful and powerful to David in the pasture, then most certainly God would give David the victory over Goliath. The ultimate question was not a matter of David’s skill, his age, or his strength. It was God Who made David strong for battle, in the past, and most certainly He will do so now:
29 Indeed, with your help I can charge against an army;
by my God’s power I can jump over a wall.
30 The one true God acts in a faithful manner;
the Lord’s promise is reliable;
he is a shield to all who take shelter in him.
31 Indeed, who is God besides the Lord?
Who is a protector besides our God?
32 The one true God gives me strength;
he removes the obstacles in my way.
33 He gives me the agility of a deer;
he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend even the strongest bow.
35 You give me your protective shield;
your right hand supports me;
your willingness to help enables me to prevail.
36 You widen my path; my feet do not slip.
37 I chase my enemies and catch them;
I do not turn back until I wipe them out.
38 I beat them to death; they fall at my feet.
39 You give me strength for battle;
you make my foes kneel before me.
40 You make my enemies retreat;
I destroy those who hate me.
41 They cry out, but there is no one to help them;
they cry out to the Lord, but he does not answer them.
42 I grind them as fine windblown dust;
I beat them underfoot like clay in the streets (Psalm 18:29-42).
I love the way David applies the analogy of his previous victories over the wild beasts through the strength God supplies with his present conflict with Goliath:
“The Lord who delivered me from [ the paw of] the lion and [ the paw of] the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” Then Saul said to David, “Go! The Lord will be with you” (1 Samuel 17:31-37, emphasis mine).
Goliath is nothing more than an angry beast. As God protected David from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, so He will protect David from the paw (as it were) of Goliath.
The response of Saul is nothing less than amazing. He does not forbid or resist David’s offer to face Goliath. Indeed, Saul lets him do so with a blessing: “Go! The Lord will be with you” (17:37). For the first time, Saul sees that God is central in this matter. He invokes God’s blessing upon David as he goes forth to accept Goliath’s challenge. He even offers David the use of his armor. Somehow, Saul seems to have enough faith to trust that God will work through David to save Israel.
David’s third conversation is with Goliath, as recorded in verses 45-47:
45 But David replied to the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I am coming against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies, whom you have defied! 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand! I will strike you down and cut off your head. This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land. Then [that, so that] all the land will realize that Israel has a God 47 and all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves! For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will deliver you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:45-47, emphasis mine).
Saul had offered David his armor and his sword – all his defensive and offensive weapons of war. David refused them, because he hadn’t “tested” them – he wasn’t used to them. Remember that such weapons were not commonly available in Israel, and thus we are told that only Saul and his son Jonathan were so equipped (1 Samuel 13:22). For such weapons to be useful, one would have to be familiar with them; one would need to have used them often. They were new to David, and so he refused them and chose to fight with his sling alone.
Here, we see another reason why it was necessary for David to decline Saul’s offer of his weapons. God wanted to make it clear that just as the battle was His, so was the victory over Goliath. Goliath came “armed to the teeth” while David came almost empty-handed. (So far as Goliath was concerned, he was empty-handed. All he seemed to have was a “stick,” which was his staff.20) Just as God had Gideon reduce his fighting force to 300 men,21 so he reduced Saul’s forces down to one man (really, a boy), with no weapon but a sling. The battle is the Lord’s, and God wants this known not only to Goliath, but to all those gathered for battle, whether Philistine or Israelite. It is the Lord who will deliver Goliath into David’s hand and into the hands of the Israelites.22
I want to focus on the divine purpose for Goliath’s defeat at the hand of David. It is stated in verses 46 and 47:
46 “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, that23 all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 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” (1 Samuel 17:46-47, ESV, emphasis mine).
As I have been reading through the Book of Ezekiel, I have been impressed with the number of times24 God indicated that He was acting in a certain way so that Israel (“you”) or others (“they”) might know that He is the Lord. One of God’s primary purposes in this world is to reveal Himself to men in all His might and glory. This is a dominant theme throughout the Scriptures.
Creation is a declaration of the glory and majesty of God.
For the music director; a psalm of David.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the sky displays his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20, emphasis mine).
God led His people out of slavery in Egypt in order to demonstrate that He is the Lord. It all began when Pharaoh refused to acknowledge the greatness of Israel’s God, the one and only God:
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him by releasing Israel? I do not know the Lord, and I will not release Israel!” (Exodus 5:2)
The plagues God brought upon the Egyptians (while sparing the Israelites) was the divine response. By these miracles, God showed the “gods” of Egypt to be no-gods, while showing that He was great.
6 Therefore, tell the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord. I will bring you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians, I will rescue you from the hard labor they impose, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 I will take you to myself for a people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you to the land I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob – and I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord!’” (Exodus 6:6-8)
5 “Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I extend my hand over Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them. . . . 17 Thus says the Lord: “By this you will know that I am the Lord: I am going to strike the water of the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood” (Exodus 7:5, 17).
God provided food for His people in the wilderness, so that they would know that He is the Lord:
“I have heard the murmurings of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘During the evening you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be satisfied with bread, so that you may know that I am the Lord your God’” (Exodus 16:12, emphasis mine).
God chose to identify Himself with the nation Israel when they, like David before Goliath, were dwarfed by other nations in both size and status. But when these nations oppressed God’s people, He came to their defense. Over and over God demonstrated that He is the Lord.
Now a prophet visited King Ahab of Israel and said, “This is what the Lord says, ‘Do you see this huge army? Look, I am going to hand it over to you this very day. Then you will know that I am the Lord’” (1 Kings 20:28).
27 When the Israelites had mustered and had received their supplies, they marched out to face them in battle. When the Israelites deployed opposite them, they were like two small flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the land. 28 The prophet visited the king of Israel and said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Syrians said, “The Lord is a god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys,” I will hand over to you this entire huge army. Then you will know that I am the Lord’” (1 Kings 20:27-28).
The New Testament has this same theme. There is one modification. In the Old Testament, God acted in a great way so that men would know that He is the Lord. In the New Testament, God has acted in Christ in a great and mighty way (through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension) so that all men might eventually acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.
19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:19-23).
9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
13 He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. 18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son 20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:13-20).
When we read this account of David and Goliath, it is indeed tempting to come away with the impression that David was a great man (or boy) of God, and that because of his greatness, the Israelites were delivered from the Philistines. David did have great faith, and he did show great courage when he went to battle against Goliath. Our text does show that David was the right person to become Israel’s king, replacing Saul. But this is not the primary emphasis of our text. The emphasis of our text is on how great God is. The text is crafted to inform us how big and how well armed Goliath was, and how young and poorly armed David was. Eliab, Saul, and Goliath were agreed on this one thing: David was “out of his league,” or so it appeared, at least.
We were not intended to read this account and say, “How great David was!” We were meant to read this text and say, “What a great God David served, and how great was the deliverance He brought about!” David did have faith, faith in the character and power of the God he served. This is entirely consistent with the way God works. What I am saying is that the story of David and Goliath is not really exceptional or unusual; the story of David and Goliath illustrates a principle that is the norm for how God uses men. God uses the weak, so that He will get the glory when great things are accomplished.
26 Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. 27 But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, 29 so that no one can boast in his presence. 30 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us (2 Corinthians 4:7).
I remember attending a banquet years ago where the emphasis was upon the greatness of a certain group of people who were planning on serving God. Frankly, I was discouraged by it all. Great is not the proper term to describe me. But then the main speaker for the evening stood and spoke from this same passage in 1 Corinthians 1. He told story after story of how God had used “little” people to accomplish great things for His glory. I left that banquet on cloud nine. I could not have been more encouraged. God could use me! Indeed, that is how God normally works – through “little” people, like me.
It is true for you as well, my friend. God uses “little men” and “little women” who have placed their trust in a great God. It is not the greatness of the people God uses which we should dwell upon, but the greatness of our God who can achieve great things through “little people.” Does this not encourage and motivate you to step out to serve God? Have you excused yourself from ministry opportunities because you thought you were not great enough for God? Then learn from David and from this text in 1 Corinthians. It is not about us; it is not about our greatness; it is about God, Who is great, and Who has determined to demonstrate to the world that He is the Lord.
The “giants” in our lives are not put there by God to keep us from accomplishing great things for God. They are put there by our Great God so that His power might be made known – to Christians, to the unbelieving world (including those who oppose God), and to the angels who observe with the greatest interest.25
What a great thought it is to realize that God purposes to demonstrate to all mankind that He is Lord of all! Knowing this should give us great courage. Believing this should prompt us to pray for great things, because He has purposed to do great things to demonstrate that He is Lord of all.
The thought occurred to me as I was preaching this message that this might be an excellent motto for our church: “Small church, Great God.” We have placed too much emphasis on the greatness of men and on the “bigness” of churches. God uses great men, but they are far and few between. But His greatness and glory is best displayed by His use of “little” people. Praise God for that.
1 Copyright © 2007 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the Becoming a Leader after God’s Heart: Studies in the Life of David, a mini-series of Following Jesus in a Me-First World, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on March 18, 2007. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
2 It would seem as though Shishak passed between these hills and through this valley on his way from Egypt to attack Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 11 and 12). Indeed, Socoh (Soco?) and Azekah appear to be two of the cities Rehoboam fortified, as a defense against the enemies of Judah (2 Chronicles 11:5-9).
3 Personally, I am not persuaded that the manuscripts which pose a shorter height for Goliath should be given priority over the Hebrew text. Thus, I understand Goliath to be over nine feet tall, as opposed to the lower (seven foot) height indicated in some translations. I would also favor the higher number (30,000, rather than 3,000) of chariots in 1 Samuel 13:5.
4 1 Samuel 8:19-20.
5 1 Samuel 9:2; 10:23.
6 1 Samuel 17:11, 24.
7 1 Samuel 14.
8 1 Samuel 17:14-19.
9 1 Samuel 17:20.
10 See 2 Samuel 21:15-22.
11 See Exodus 14:1—15:21.
12 See 1 Kings 11:1-13.
13 Remember that in Exodus 32 the Israelites urged Aaron to make an idol for them, and idol who would “go before them” (Exodus 32:1). There, they wanted an idol to replace Moses. Now, they want a king to replace God, and His appointed leadership.
14 Deuteronomy 17:15.
15 It is interesting that David has nothing to say about Saul’s failure to stand up to Goliath. Since Saul is the king, as well as Israel’s commander-in-chief, he may have felt that would have been insubordinate.
16 See, for example, Exodus 5:2; 12:12; 1 Kings 18, 20.
17 “Discouraged” seems too weak a term here. David does not merely speak of “losing heart,” but of one’s heart failing for fear.
18 We all tend to assume that David was “too small” or “too short” to fight Goliath, but nowhere that I know of are we told David was short. Saul does not say to David, “You are too small to fight Goliath”, but rather, “You are too young and inexperienced to fight Goliath.” Neither are we told that Saul’s armor did not fit David (though it might not have fit); we are told that David had not “tested” (tried out) Saul’s armor. We need to be careful not to read matters into the text that are not there. At the very least, this points to the emphasis of the story.
19 1 Samuel 16:13.
20 See 1 Samuel 17:41. Goliath may not even have noticed David’s sling, and so he calls attention to the stick. This was a huge insult to Goliath. Was he a mere dog that you would drive off with sticks?
21 Judges 7:1-8.
22 Note the plural, “our hand,” in verse 47.
23 Here the NET Bible renders this conjunction “then;” the NASB, ESV, KJV, and NKJ render “that;” the NIV renders “and;” the NJB renders “so that.” All are legitimate renderings, but I am inclined to see the emphasis falling on the divine purpose: “so that . . . .”
24 I hastily counted 66 times in Ezekiel, and undoubtedly there were more instances than this.
25 1 Corinthians 11:10; Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12.
When we come to the story of David and Goliath, we should recall that this is by no means Israel’s first battle with the Philistines. In the Book of Judges, the Philistines were but one of those nations that God used to chasten the Israelites for their sins.2 Samson was one of the judges God raised up to provide a measure of relief from Philistine oppression.3
The Israelites have faced the Philistines in battle on several occasions in the earlier chapters of 1 Samuel. The Israelites were badly beaten at the hands of the Philistines in chapters 4-6. As a result of this defeat, Eli and his sons died, and the ark of the covenant was stolen. Apart from any military action by the Israelites, the ark was returned. God did not need men to vindicate His name.
In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel rebukes the Israelites for their sin and calls them to repentance. He promises to deliver them from the Philistines if they return to Him. They cast away their idols and gather at Mizpah where they fast for a day. The report of this assembly reaches the Philistines, who seem to misinterpret its purpose, and assume it is a military uprising. Thus, the Philistines attack with a very large army. Mizpah (“watchtower” or “lookout”) was apparently a high place, and the Philistines seem to encircle the Israelites, ready to attack them. The Israelites did not come for battle, and they had few weapons.4 The situation looked hopeless. Things suddenly changed when Samuel offered a sacrifice:
As Samuel was offering burnt offerings, the Philistines approached to do battle with Israel. But on that day the Lord thundered loudly against the Philistines. He caused them to panic, and they were defeated by Israel (1 Samuel 7:10).
Here’s the way I understand this amazing victory.5 Mizpah was a high place, higher than the surrounding territory. The Philistines assembled, well armed with their metal weapons, including iron swords. As they poised to attack, the situation must have looked impossible for the Israelites. After all, the Philistines came with the latest in military technology (metal weapons), while the Israelites were virtually defenseless, without any metal weapons. I would imagine that the Philistine commander gave an order, something like, “Charge!” As he did, he and all the Philistine soldiers raised their weapons high into the air to strike terror into the hearts of the Israelites.
But instead of having their technology give them the edge (pardon the pun), it did just the opposite. At that moment, God brought a powerful thunderstorm, with lightning. Every upraised sword became a lightening rod, and thus only the Philistines were killed. Seeing what was happening, the Philistines panicked, perhaps throwing their swords down, leaving their iron-wheeled (and shielded) chariots behind, and running for their lives. All the Israelites had to do was to pick up their swords and go after the Philistines. There was a great victory for the Israelites, and it was all God’s. As a result, the cites which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel.
I confess to some degree of embellishment here. It may not have happened exactly as I have described, but it did happen on the level of magnitude that I have described. God employed the forces of nature to completely overpower His enemies. I would encourage you to reflect on Psalm 18, where God not only employs nature to overcome Israel’s enemies (verses 7-15), but He also empowers His people to prevail in battle (verses 25-38). Over and over in Israel’s history God came to the rescue of His people in most miraculous ways – often ways that involved God’s control over nature, such as the exodus when God parted the Red Sea. At such times, it was God who brought about such confusion and destruction that the Israelites could hardly have taken credit for the victory.
Another battle is described in chapters 13 and 14. Jonathan seems to have precipitated this by attacking the Philistine outpost at Gibeah. When the Philistines got word of this, they mustered their forces for battle and this caused (forced?) Saul to summon the Israelites for battle. Saul and his army gathered at Gilgal, where Samuel had instructed them to wait seven days for him:
“You will go down to Gilgal before me. I am going to join you there to offer burnt offerings and to make peace offerings. You should wait for seven days, until I arrive and tell you what to do” (1 Samuel 10:8).
The Philistines drew up for battle nearby with chariots and horsemen so numerous they were like “the sand on the seashore” (1 Samuel 13:5). The Israelites were so badly outnumbered that they fled in terror. They began to seek places where they could hide from the Philistines, and it seems that some even surrendered and joined the Philistines (see 1 Samuel 14:21). Saul’s army was vaporizing before his eyes. It appeared that there would be no one left by the time Samuel got there. And so Saul waited for seven days, but when he did not arrive (by Saul’s deadline) Saul went ahead and offered the sacrifices, even though this was Samuel’s task to perform.
It was then that Samuel arrived, and seeing what Saul had done, he rebuked him. Saul’s excuse was that his army was vanishing and that there would have been no one left had he not acted (in disobedience) when he did. The irony of this is that Saul could not see what God was doing – He was reducing Israel’s forces so that it would be clear that the battle, and the victory, was His. We know that Saul’s forces had dwindled to 600 men (1 Samuel 13:15). This was twice the number that God sent to fight the Midianites under Gideon’s leadership (Judges 7:8) – and they won!
Samuel informed Saul that his kingdom would not endure, and that another king, a “man after God’s heart,” would take his place (1 Samuel 13:14). Samuel then went his way, and Saul was left to fight the Philistines with an army of 600 men. And just to make sure that all would recognize any victory on Israel’s part would be the Lord’s doing, we read these words:
19 A blacksmith could not be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines had said, “This will prevent the Hebrews from making swords and spears.” 20 So all Israel had to go down to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened. 21 They charged two-thirds of a shekel to sharpen plowshares and cutting instruments, and a third of a shekel to sharpen picks and axes, and to set ox goads. 22 So on the day of the battle no sword or spear was to be found in the hand of anyone in the army that was with Saul and Jonathan. No one but Saul and his son Jonathan had them. 23 A garrison of the Philistines had gone out to the pass at Micmash (1 Samuel 13:19-23, emphasis mine).
Just as Jonathan seems to have started this war, so it seems he took the initiative in bringing it to a conclusion. While Saul sat in the shade of a pomegranate tree, Jonathan, accompanied by his armor bearer, looked for the opportunity for God to give them a victory:
Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the Lord from delivering, whether by many or by a few” (1 Samuel 14:6).
At heart, Jonathan is a David! He knows that God can give Israel the victory, whether by few or by many. At this moment in time, it is a few. They climb up a ravine to a group of Philistines who know they are coming. Jonathan does battle with his armor bearer behind him, finishing off those whom Jonathan has fallen. This slaughter involved only about 20 Philistines, but it started something much bigger. An earthquake set the Philistines into a panic, so much so that they were killing each other with their swords.
Isn’t this just like God? The Israelite soldiers have no swords, only Saul and his son Jonathan (13:22), and so the Lord responds to Jonathan’s faith and initiative, setting the Philistines into sheer panic. They turn on one another, killing each other with their swords. Seeing this finally convinces Saul to join the battle with his men. Those who had abandoned Saul and his army could see that God was with Israel, and so they returned to fight for the Israelites. The slaughter was great as the Israelites pursued the fleeing Philistines, but Saul’s foolish oath (1 Samuel 14:24) greatly diminished Israel’s victory.
Goliath expects a champion, and rightly so. Goliath expected the Israelites to be led into battle by a great warrior. So did the Israelites, which is why (so they said) that they demanded a king:
19 But the people refused to heed Samuel’s warning. Instead they said, “No! There will be a king over us! 20 We will be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).
We see this expectation of someone to lead Israel into battle in Judges 10:18 (who turns out to be Jephthah – see Judges 11:5-6). We also see this when King Ahab of Israel was to do battle against Ben Hadad and his very large Syrian army:
13 Now a prophet visited King Ahab of Israel and said, “This is what the Lord says, ‘Do you see this huge army? Look, I am going to hand it over to you this very day. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 14 Ahab asked, “By whom will this be accomplished?” He answered, “This is what the Lord says, ‘By the servants of the district governors.’” Ahab asked, “Who will launch the attack?” He answered, “You will” (1 Kings 20:13-14).
Goliath rightly expected to confront Israel’s “champion.” We know this should have been Saul for he was Israel’s king, and he stood head and shoulders above his fellow-Israelites.
Saul was no weakling when it came to war. First Samuel 13-15 paints a pretty negative picture of Saul’s character, and this is to show why God would remove him as king and replace him with a “man after God’s heart.” But we should also recognize that while Saul failed miserably in some aspects of his life and reign as king, overall he did deliver the Israelites from many of their oppressors:
47 After Saul had secured his royal position over Israel, he fought against all their enemies on all sides – the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. In every direction that he turned he was victorious. 48 He fought bravely, striking down the Amalekites and delivering Israel from the hand of its enemies (1 Samuel 14:47-48, emphasis mine).
Thus, we learn that the purpose of chapters 13-15 is not to summarize Saul’s entire reign as king, but to focus on a few incidents which expose his lack of character. These incidents are the reason God is replacing Saul with David. In recognizing the weaknesses and flaws of this man Saul, let us not conclude that he served no useful purpose for Israel. Saul, like Samson (for example), was a deliverer for his people. But when we come to 1 Samuel 17 and the challenge of Goliath, Saul fails to live up to his calling as Israel’s champion.
For whatever reason, neither Jonathan nor his two brothers are mentioned in chapter 17. The silence of the text in 1 Samuel 17 is indeed perplexing in the light of two things. First, from what we know about Jonathan from chapter 14 – his faith in God and his courage in battle – we would expect that if he had been with Saul when Goliath defied the armies of the living God, he would have quickly risen to the challenge. Second, in chapter 18 we read that Jonathan was a kindred spirit with David and had made a covenant with him. Where is Jonathan in chapter 17? We are simply not told, but whatever the reason we would not expect it to be a lack of courage. Jonathan’s relationship with David is something like John the Baptist’s relationship with Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Samuel, likewise, is absent.6 Saul has been rejected as Israel’s king. He no longer has the Spirit of God to empower him, and he no longer has Samuel to guide him. (And thus, in his last days he will turn to a medium for guidance – see 1 Samuel 28.)
Aside from Goliath and the Philistines David’s oldest brother, Eliab, is his only adversary.
24 When all the men of Israel saw this man, they retreated from his presence and were very afraid. 25 The men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is coming up? He does so to defy Israel. But the king will make the man who can strike him down very wealthy! He will give him his daughter in marriage, and he will make his father’s house exempt from tax obligations in Israel.” 26 David asked the men who were standing near him, “ What will be done for the man who strikes down this Philistine and frees Israel from this humiliation? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?” 27 The soldiers told him what had been promised, saying, “ This is what will be done for the man who can strike him down.” 28 When David’s oldest brother Eliab heard him speaking to the men, he became angry with David and said, “Why have you come down here? To whom did you entrust those few sheep in the desert? I am familiar with your pride and deceit! You have come down here to watch the battle!” 29 David replied, “What have I done now? Can’t I say anything?” 30 Then he turned from those who were nearby to someone else and asked the same question, but they gave him the same answer as before (1 Samuel 17:24-30).
Two challenges are before David and the Israelite soldiers. The first is Goliath’s challenge to come and to fight him. The second is Saul’s challenge that one of his men fight Goliath, with some very powerful incentives: Saul’s daughter will be given in marriage to the one who kills Goliath, and there will be an exemption from taxes for his father.
It is interesting to observe that the men of Israel seemed to initiate the conversation with David regarding Saul’s offer to anyone with the courage and skill to kill Goliath. They recognized Goliath’s defiance, but in a very different way than David did. They did not think of this defiance in terms of God’s might and glory, but rather in terms of Saul’s tempting offer, an offer no one seemed interested in pursuing. It is also interesting that David seemed to repeatedly ask other soldiers about Saul’s offer.
Why did David keep asking the same question to different soldiers? I doubt it is because he didn’t understand the offer, or because David didn’t believe it. It appears that it is because David cannot understand why none of these men has taken up Saul’s offer. He seems to keep asking because he can’t believe that they understand the offer. “This man,” David is saying, “is an uncircumcised Philistine, and he is defying the armies of the living God.” To David, Goliath is as good as dead for this reason alone. Apart from Saul’s offer, it is enough for anyone who is zealous for the honor of God’s name to want to be the one to strike him down. But Saul’s offer in addition to this makes it inconceivable to David that no one would face this loud-mouthed heathen.
While we are not directly told the reason David kept asking this question, we are told that his doing so infuriated Eliab, David’s older brother and Jesse’s oldest son. It is not really too difficult to understand why. In the first place, David will be returning to his father to give him a full report as to how the battle is going. Will David tell his father how Eliab and his brothers cowered in fear before Goliath? Will he tell Jesse that for 40 days nothing has happened, that no actual fighting has occurred? David was not a soldier; he was too young. He had merely come to deliver supplies and then to return with a report to his father. And yet he would come, and by his words and actions, he would condemn his older brothers for failing to stand for God and for their king.
It is not really a surprise that it is Eliab (the oldest of Jesse’s three sons who are fighting for Saul) who would be so upset with David. David was the one to be anointed as Israel’s next king, rather than Eliab.
28 When David’s oldest brother Eliab heard him speaking to the men, he became angry with David and said, “Why have you come down here? To whom did you entrust those few sheep in the desert? I am familiar with your pride and deceit! You have come down here to watch the battle!” (1 Samuel 17:28)
If Samuel was inclined to assume that Eliab would be God’s choice for a king, how much more would Eliab be inclined to assume this? He was the oldest brother. He may have already had experience as a soldier. He was apparently big and strong. It seemed obvious that he must be God’s choice. But God saw something in Eliab that He did not like, and I believe that his response to David in chapter 17 reveals this.
While God seems to have “passed over” David’s other brothers, the text is very specific that when it came to Eliab, God “rejected” him. The same term, “rejected,” that is used in reference to Eliab is also used of Israel’s rejection of God as their king (1 Samuel 8:7; 10:19), and of God’s rejection of Saul (1 Samuel 15:23, 26; 16:1). My sense is that Eliab is really a lot like Saul.
What we know for certain is that Eliab was wrong on every count. Not one of his accusations was valid. Nothing he said revealed a concern for the glory of God. He claimed to know David’s heart. He accused David of having a proud and insolent7 heart. Is Eliab accusing David of pride because he is God’s anointed? It would seem so. Eliab assumes that David, in disobedience to his father, has left that little flock of sheep unattended, just to come and watch. And now, he has gone so far as to ask why it is that no one is fighting Goliath. David came in obedience to his father’s instructions8 (something he seems to have done fairly often9), and he left the sheep in the care of another.10 And as we shall soon see, David did not come merely to observe and to go home; he would accept the challenge and face Goliath in the name of the Lord.
We have seen in 1 Samuel 14:47-48 that Saul was a valiant warrior, so what happened here? How can we explain Saul’s paralysis here? The text has indicated several factors.
First, the Spirit of God has left Saul, the Spirit that gave him both wisdom, courage, and strength. In His place, an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.
Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him (1 Samuel 16:14).
Saul not only was devoid of God’s Spirit, he was often tormented by an evil spirit that terrorized him. Instead of courage, inspired by God’s Spirit, Saul was terrorized with fear. No wonder he would not go up against Goliath.
Second, Saul had already been told this his kingdom will end and that none of his heirs will reign in his place (there will be no dynasty).
13 Then Samuel said to Saul, “You have made a foolish choice! You have not obeyed the commandment that the Lord your God gave you. Had you done that, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever! 14 But now your kingdom will not continue! The Lord has sought out for himself a man who is loyal to him and the Lord has appointed him to be leader over his people, for you have not obeyed what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14, emphasis mine).
22 Then Samuel said,
“Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as he does in obedience?
Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice;
paying attention is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and presumption is like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”
. . . 27 When Samuel turned to leave, Saul grabbed the edge of his robe and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “ The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to one of your colleagues who is better than you! (1 Samuel 15:22-23, 27-28, emphasis mine)
Recent history does not offer Saul much encouragement. It is no wonder Saul is not eager to do battle with the Philistines or their giant. You will recall that it was a battle with the Philistines that took the lives of Eli and his two sons.11 Saul will likewise be in battle with the Philistines when he and his sons are killed.12 He has good cause to be fearful about going into battle with his sons. Is this why they are not mentioned in 1 Samuel 17?
If 1 Samuel 14 took place in the not-too-distant past, then there would be yet another reason for Saul to be fearful. It is not Saul who is the great hero in Israel’s conflict with the Philistines; Jonathan is the hero. He was the one who started the conflict, and he was the one who was instrumental in the dramatic change in events that led to Israel’s victory (partial though it was). In chapter 14, it is Jonathan who is the military hero, while Saul is the reluctant warrior. In chapter 17, it is David who is the military hero, while Saul continues as the reluctant one.
Things have not been going well for Saul of late. Thus, Saul is terrorized and for good reason. He has twice been told that his kingdom will not endure, the Spirit of God has left him, and an evil spirit now fills him with fear. In his last conflict with the Philistines, Saul was more intent on killing his son than he was on killing Philistines. In chapter 17, Saul has lost his edge.
If Saul’s reluctance to do battle needs some explanation, so does Saul’s willingness to allow David to fight for the Israelites, as their champion. Think about this for a moment. Goliath’s challenge was to have a contest between two men – himself and the champion of Israel’s choosing – and the winner of that battle would also win the battle for his side.
8 Goliath stood and called to Israel’s troops, “Why do you come out to prepare for battle? Am I not the Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose for yourselves a man so he may come down to me! 9 If he is able to fight with me and strike me down, we will become your servants. But if I prevail against him and strike him down, you will become our servants and will serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “I defy Israel’s troops this day! Give me a man so we can fight each other!” (1 Samuel 17:8-10)
It is possible, of course, that Goliath’s offer was insincere. But this was the challenge that was put to Saul and to his army. David is brought before Saul, and after David has spoken with the king, Saul not only gives him permission to fight Goliath (on Israel’s behalf?); Saul actually loans David his outfit, including his armor. How could Saul be so quickly and easily persuaded to put the entire nation “at risk” by entrusting the nation’s future to a young shepherd boy?
I’m inclined to look at this question in the light of David’s ministry to Saul with his harp. The Spirit departed from Saul, but He came upon David in a powerful way. Thus, when the evil spirit traumatized Saul, David played his harp and soothed Saul’s troubled spirit. On the battlefield, Saul is devoid of the Spirit, and thus his fears are not difficult to understand. David is Spirit-filled, and when he is summoned, he speaks to Saul as one empowered by the Spirit. First, David graciously (“Let no man’s heart fail. . .”) encourages Saul, assuring him that he will go out and fight Goliath.13
David explains to Saul that while he is not a seasoned warrior, he has (not infrequently) “done battle” with bears and lions. In other words, he assures Saul that God has enabled him on numerous occasions to kill bears and lions with his own hands. Goliath is no more awesome than these wild beasts, and beyond that, he has chosen to taunt the armies of the living God. God will be with whoever stands up to this giant.
And so Saul replies,
“Go! The Lord will be with you” (1 Samuel 17:37b).
Not only does the king bless David in the Lord’s name; he then gives (or should I say loans) David his garments and his armor. As I read this, I am reminded of a later incident, when Ahab, king of Israel, along with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, go to battle against the Syrians:
29 The king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah attacked Ramoth Gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and then enter into the battle; but you wear your royal robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself and then entered into the battle (1 Kings 22:29-30).
The king’s robe identified him as the king, just as Joseph’s robe (his “coat of many colors”) symbolized his authority over his brothers. Thus, if David were to go into battle wearing Saul’s robe, it seems that he would have been recognized as Saul’s substitute. On top of this, Saul wanted David to wear his armor into battle. In all of this, Saul was not seeking to distance himself from David, but rather he was identifying himself with David. The reason he would do so, I believe, is because to some degree he seems to have been inspired by David to believe that God would give him (and thus Israel) the victory.
David chose not to wear Saul’s robe or to use his armor. The text does not tell us that the size was wrong (though it could have been). What we are told is that David “was not used to them” (the NASB renders, “he had not tested them.” The point is the same. Only Saul and Jonathan had sword and spear (1 Samuel 13:22). David was not skilled with sword or spear, so it would be foolish for him to attempt to kill Goliath with such weapons.
But there is a deeper, more fundamental reason, I believe, a reason that is found in David’s words to Goliath:
45 But David replied to the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I am coming against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies, whom you have defied! 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand! I will strike you down and cut off your head. This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land. Then all the land will realize that Israel has a God 47 and all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves! For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will deliver you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).
It was necessary for David to come against Goliath in a way that appeared impossible for him to prevail (much as the Israelites fought the Philistines without the use of iron weapons) so that the victory and the glory would be God’s. This was not a battle between David and Goliath; it was a battle between the living God and Goliath.
There is an interesting consequence to this. From all appearances, when David came against Saul he seemed to come unarmed. All Goliath noticed was David’s staff, and thus he was greatly offended and replied:
43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you are coming after me with sticks?” Then the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come here to me, so I can give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the field!” (1 Samuel 17:43-44)
I hardly think David brought his staff in order to beat Goliath with it. It was just a part of his normal shepherding equipment, along with his sling. But Goliath seems to notice only the staff (“a stick”), and not the sling, which may have been largely concealed in the palm of David’s hand, or at his side. Thus, Goliath and his armor bearer may have approached David with little caution. It was too late because David promptly hurled a stone that knocked Goliath cold. Then David could “borrow” Goliath’s sword, kill him, and cut off his head.14
As I have thought about it, David was the one person who could fight Goliath with absolute confidence that God would give him the victory. David had faith in God, and he was vigilant and zealous with regard to defending God’s honor. Furthermore, David had the Spirit of God dwelling in him, empowering him with wisdom and great strength. But in addition to this, David was the Lord’s anointed, the one whom God had identified as Saul’s replacement. David was invincible, as we can see from his encounters with bears and lions.
The story of David and Goliath is not an allegory, but it could certainly be used as an allegory which depicts the condition of sinful men. Goliath and his Philistine forces are something like Satan and his fallen angels. We are all like Saul and his Israelite army – seemingly powerless to overcome the enemy. David is a kind of prototype of Jesus Christ. He had no obligation to come to our aid, but He did so. He defeated Satan when he died on the cross of Calvary, and then He rose from the dead. Those who trust in Jesus will follow Him into the spiritual warfare that is ours to win, empowered by God’s Spirit.
I was reminded of these texts in Isaiah, who speak of our helplessness, and of the Messiah, who would come to personally defeat Satan and the power of sin over us:
The Lord watches and is displeased, for there is no justice. 16 He sees there is no advocate; he is shocked that no one intervenes. So he takes matters into his own hands; his desire for justice drives him on. 17 He wears his desire for justice like body armor, and his desire to deliver is like a helmet on his head. He puts on the garments of vengeance and wears zeal like a robe (Isaiah 59:15b-17, emphasis mine).
Thus, just a couple of chapters ahead in Isaiah we will read:
1 The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has chosen me. He has commissioned me to encourage the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners, 2 to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor, the day when our God will seek vengeance, to console all who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2).
There is no way that you or I can overcome the power of sin and death in this world and in our lives. We are powerless, and Satan loves to intimidate us and make us fearful. But God saw our helpless condition and sent the Lord Jesus to save us. He came in human flesh, lived a perfect, sinless, life (something no one had ever done before), and then He died on the cross in our place, bearing our punishment. Then He rose from the dead, and He offers the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life to all who trust in Him.
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. 16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).
Have you trusted in Jesus? He alone can free us from the power of Satan, sin, and death. It is not something we can do; but it is something He has already done, which we must accept as a gift:
1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Before I begin to suggest some applications based upon David’s faith and courage, let me remind the reader of the previous lesson in which I underscored the fact that the “battle is the Lord’s,” that first and foremost this is the story of a big opponent (Goliath) and a great God. Let us always keep this in mind. Having said this, let us focus on some of the lessons we can learn from David and from Saul.
Both fear and faith are contagious. It seems quite obvious that Saul’s fear undermined the faith and courage of the rest of his army, just as we can see that David’s faith and courage had a very positive impact on Saul and on the entire Israelite army. Leaders do not merely lead by command, or even by inducements, but by example. Bad leaders discourage; good leaders encourage.
Leaders sometimes have to be willing to stand alone. When David arrived at the battlefront, there was not one man who was willing to stand alone against Goliath, yet this is what was required. It is easy to lead when every follower is eager and committed to the task. But leadership is sometimes a very lonely road. Sometimes a leader must be out front, by himself, for a time. And when it is apparent that God’s hand is upon him, others may then follow. Leaders cannot lead from behind, and they seldom lead without being visible.
Leadership isn’t about holding a position; it is about stepping forward in faith at a time of need. I want you to take note of the fact that David is a true leader in our text, a far better leader than Saul, or Abner,15 or any of the commanders of the Israelite army. David holds no position; indeed, technically, he isn’t even a soldier and could not be, assuming he was not yet 20 years old.16 David did not need a formal position or title in order to be a leader; he needed only to step forward at a time of need. And so he did.
There are some who think that because they don’t hold a position in the church that they are not, and cannot be, a leader. David proved this thinking wrong. What we need in the church is a lot more “David’s” who step forward in faith when a need or an opportunity arises. Young people, take note; you don’t have to be older to fulfill a leadership need. I do not say this to underestimate or to undermine the official leaders of the church, the elders and the deacons. I say this to encourage those who excuse themselves from many of the challenges before them because they are not formal leaders.
In our church, we observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. We have an open worship meeting where the men in our church are to lead the body in worship. While the elders and deacons need to be visible and to fulfill their leadership responsibilities, there is a great need for other men to step forward and lead, in prayer, in reading Scripture, in calling out a hymn, in passing the elements, in speaking a word of exhortation or testimony. Fear is no excuse because we serve a great God who wants to work through those who have faith in Him, and who find the courage to step out when needs or opportunities to glorify Him arise.
Leaders are not made in times of crisis; they are revealed in times of crisis. God had been preparing David for this moment in time for many years. God had selected David to be Israel’s king, He had empowered him with His Spirit, He had shown His power to be sufficient to deliver David from his enemies (including lions and bears). David had learned to trust God, and he had developed skills and godly habits that emerged at this time of crisis. Leaders become apparent at points of crisis, which is exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:
For there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident (1 Corinthians 11:19).
Divisions at Corinth were not godly, but God used them to reveal those leaders who were approved. That is what God did with David as well.
Leaders must deal with opposition that sometimes comes from within, even from those close to us. Other than Goliath, David’s greatest opposition came from his brother Eliab. If David had followed Eliab’s counsel (orders?), he would have gone home and left the war to Eliab, his brothers, and Saul. David had to act in accordance with his faith in God and with his sense of what action he needed to take. That meant disregarding his brother’s rebuke, knowing that he had failed to assess the situation correctly.
Leaders need to be aware of the fact that our motivations and our deeds may be misunderstood by others. Eliab certainly misunderstood David’s motivations and his deeds. No one can know our hearts fully, except God. We cannot even understand our own hearts fully. There are times when leaders must make decisions or take action, and they are not able to explain all their reasons for doing so. Leaders are privy to information that others do not have, and they are not at liberty to make this information known. This means that people must trust their leaders, aware that they may be acting on information that is not public. It also means that leaders need to anticipate that there will always be some who question what they are doing or why they are doing it. That is part of the price leaders must be willing to pay.
God doesn’t have to be persuaded or prodded to act in behalf of His own glory. God is passionate about manifesting His glory. The holdup is not on His side, but on ours. Consider this very significant (and relevant) text in 2 Chronicles 16:
1 In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign, King Baasha of Israel attacked Judah, and he established Ramah as a military outpost to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the land of King Asa of Judah. 2 Asa took all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace and sent it to King Ben Hadad of Syria, ruler in Damascus, along with this message: 3 “I want to make a treaty with you, like the one our fathers made. See, I have sent you silver and gold. Break your treaty with King Baasha of Israel, so he will retreat from my land.” 4 Ben Hadad accepted King Asa’s offer and ordered his army commanders to attack the cities of Israel. They conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel Maim, and all the storage cities of Naphtali. 5 When Baasha heard the news, he stopped fortifying Ramah and abandoned the project. 6 King Asa ordered all the men of Judah to carry away the stones and wood that Baasha had used to build Ramah. He used the materials to build up Geba and Mizpah. 7 At that time Hanani the prophet visited King Asa of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Syria and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. 8 Did not the Cushites and Libyans have a huge army with chariots and a very large number of horsemen? But when you relied on the Lord, he handed them over to you! 9 Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him. You have acted foolishly in this matter; from now on you will have war” (2 Chronicles 16:1-9, emphasis mine).
This is a very pertinent text. In context, Israel is divided into the northern and southern kingdoms. Here, the two kingdoms are actually at war. King Baasha of the northern kingdom (Israel) attacked Judah, establishing Ramah as a military outpost, so as to contain Judah. Asa, king of Judah, was fearful, and rather than trusting God to deliver him, he turned to his arch enemy, Ben Hadad of Syria. He emptied the temple of its treasures to bribe Ben Hadad to attack Israel, and thus to force Baasha to give up his attack on Judah. It worked (or so it seemed).
God sent the prophet Hanani to rebuke Asa. Asa had placed his trust in Ben Hadad, rather than in God. Asa was frightened by the odds, by the size of Israel’s army. Hanani reminded Asa of all those times when God had given His people the victory in the face of overwhelming odds. He could have done so again. He then concludes by saying that God is constantly looking for those who are wholly devoted to Him, because He will strengthen such people to give them great victories.
We tend to look at the story of David and Goliath as “the exception,” rather than as “the rule.” The words of the prophet in 2 Chronicles 16 tell us that there will always be “Goliath’s,” but that God desires that there be men and women of faith and courage, who will stand fast with the assurance that they serve a great God. God loves to work through those who have great faith in Him and who are devoted to His glory. Such was the case with David. God’s delight and desire is that there be many more Davids. Those who believe in God as a great and awesome God are those who are likely to seek Him to show Himself to be great and awesome, to His glory.
This leads me to end with this question: “What are some of the giants we face as a church that require you to assume some level of leadership, to take some degree of initiative? What are some of the giants God has put in your life, to provide you with the opportunity to show yourself approved? What action do these giants require of you? What, by God’s grace, do you purpose to do differently because of this text, and the principles that it teaches?
1 Copyright © 2007 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the Becoming a Leader after God’s Heart: Studies in the Life of David, a mini-series of Following Jesus in a Me-First World, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on March 25, 2007. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
2 See Judges 3:1-3; 10:6ff.
3 See Judges 13:1ff.
4 1 Samuel 13:19-23.
5 I confess that I may be pressing this matter too far. Those who find this a bit too far-fetched should merely disregard it. Granted, in this text lightening is not specifically mentioned. It should be pointed out, however, that in several places where this Hebrew term for thunder is found, lightening is found in the same context. See 2 Samuel 22:14-15 (paralleled in Psalm 18:13-14); Job 37:4-5; Psalm 29:3-7; 77:18; Isaiah 29:6(?). In Joshua 10:11, we see that God rained down hailstones on Canaanite kings at Gibeon. All of the forces of nature are at God’s disposal, and He frequently used them to give Israel victory of their enemies.
6 See 1 Samuel 15:35.
7 The Hebrew word (rendered “pride” by the NET) seems to indicate a pride or arrogance that manifests itself in insolent or presumptuous speech.
8 1 Samuel 17:17-19.
9 1 Samuel 17:15.
10 1 Samuel 17:20.
11 Granted, Eli’s sons were killed in the actual battle, when the Philistines captured the ark; Eli died at the report of the news of this defeat, and the death of his sons (1 Samuel 4:11-18).
12 1 Samuel 31:1-6.
13 1 Samuel 17:32.
14 1 Samuel 17:51.
15 1 Samuel 17:55.
16 See Numbers 1:2-3.
I must confess that this lesson took an unexpected turn as I was preparing to preach. I had intended to focus once again on David and see what lessons we could learn from his example. While there are things to learn from David in 1 Samuel 18, there is also much to learn from Jonathan. Jonathan is a truly magnificent man. If David was a “man after God’s heart,” then so was Jonathan. In this lesson, I would like to focus on Jonathan and the crucial role he played in the process by which God made a leader of David.
To appreciate Jonathan as we should, we must turn back to 1 Samuel 14, where we are introduced to this magnificent man. As in chapter 17, Saul and the Israelite army seem to be at a standoff with the Philistines. Chapter 14 begins with Jonathan and his armor bearer leaving the safety of their fellow warriors and heading out into Philistine territory:
Then one day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the Philistine garrison that is opposite us.” But he did not let his father know (1 Samuel 14:1).
Jonathan takes the initiative to wage some kind of attack on the Philistine outpost with only his armor bearer to accompany him.
Meanwhile, his father Saul is sitting in the shade of the pomegranate tree on the outskirts of Gibeah along with about 600 Israelite soldiers. It seems fairly clear that the author wants his readers to appreciate the stark contrast between Saul, who should have been leading his troops in battle, and Jonathan. Saul is sitting under the shade of “the” pomegranate tree. I doubt that you could fit all 600 men under that tree with him. He’s sipping his iced tea, waiting for an opportune moment to go to war. Jonathan is not a “shade tree” kind of soldier, and thus he and his armor bearer set out for the Philistine outpost, where they will engage the Philistines.
I suspect that Jonathan did not tell his father what he was doing1 because Saul was not really that interested in fighting, and he probably would have forbidden him. Jonathan and his armor bearer scaled the steep cliff to engage the Philistines. Jonathan’s words to his armor bearer reveal that he is truly a man “after God’s heart” just as David is:
Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the Lord from delivering, whether by many or by a few” (1 Samuel 14:6, emphasis mine).2
Now bear in mind that these are but two men, only one of which is fully armed,3 and yet they are about to attack a Philistine outpost. Can you imagine Jonathan failing to rise to Goliath’s challenge in chapter 17? I cannot, and thus I am convinced that Jonathan was either not present (did his father station him elsewhere?) or that he was under strict orders not to fight. My point here is to call your attention to how similar Jonathan and David were.
Jonathan and his armor bearer scaled the cliff to confront the awaiting Philistines. Jonathan and his armor bearer killed around 20 men in this encounter.4 Killing these 20 men had about the same effect on the Philistines as Goliath’s death at the hand of David. God brought about an earthquake which, along with Jonathan’s victory, sent a shock wave of fear among the Philistines. They turned and fled in sheer panic. While this was taking place, Saul looked on from the shade of the pomegranate tree wondering what was going on. Saul knew that some of his men must be involved, and thus he ordered them to be mustered, which revealed that Jonathan and his armor bearer were missing.
Panic increased among the Philistines, so that they were killing one another with their swords. Isn’t this just like God? The Israelites have no swords, except for Saul and Jonathan, and so God orchestrates such chaos at the battle scene (by the earthquake?) that the Philistines were using their swords on each other. Once it becomes apparent to Saul that the Philistines are suffering defeat, he orders his men to engage.
It is at this point that Saul issues a foolish order. He puts all of his men under an oath that they will not eat until they have given Saul vengeance on his enemies.5 Neither Jonathan nor his armor bearer were aware of such an oath, and thus when he came upon a honeycomb in the forest, he ate and was greatly strengthened. Saul’s men came upon the honey, but none of them dared to eat of it. The end result was that Saul’s men lacked the strength to press on in the battle. When someone informed Jonathan of the oath Saul had imposed on his men, his son saw the folly of his father’s actions:
28 Then someone from the army informed him, “Your father put the army under a strict oath saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food today!’ That is why the army is tired.” 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has caused trouble for the land. See how my eyes gleamed when I tasted just a little of this honey. 30 Certainly if the army had eaten some of the enemies’ provisions that they came across today, would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?” (1 Samuel 14:28-30)
Worse yet, when the weary soldiers came upon the spoils of war – sheep and cattle – they were so famished that they slaughtered and ate them, blood and all.6 This was breaking the covenant on a large scale, and thus Saul was forced to build an altar (a first for Saul).7
Finally, Saul was ready to do battle again, but the priest urged him to consult God. So they did, but God did not respond. Saul concluded that this was due to sin, and so the lot was cast and Jonathan was indicated. Somehow I don’t get the impression that Saul was surprised.8 Saul seems a bit too eager to put his son to death; at least there is no indication of reluctance:
Saul said, “God will punish me severely if Jonathan doesn’t die!” (1 Samuel 14:44)
Saul’s men were not about to allow this to happen to Jonathan. They recognized that their victory over the Philistines was due to Jonathan’s leadership, and not Saul’s:
But the army said to Saul, “Should Jonathan, who won this great victory in Israel, die? May it never be! As surely as the Lord lives, not a single hair of his head will fall to the ground! For it is with the help of God that he has acted today.” So the army rescued Jonathan from death (1 Samuel 14:45).
Jonathan was spared, and the Israelites gave up their pursuit of the Philistines. One has to wonder if the confrontation with the Philistines and their champion, Goliath, would have been necessary if it had not been for Saul’s folly.
My purpose for reviewing 1 Samuel 14 is that this is where the reader is introduced to Jonathan. We are not really surprised at Saul’s actions, but we are amazed that his son could be so much like David. This chapter provides an interesting backdrop to 1 Samuel 17, where David kills Goliath. In chapter 14, it is Jonathan who takes the initiative, while Saul and the other soldiers passively wait. In chapter 17, it is David who takes the initiative, while Saul and the other soldiers tremble in fear. Both Jonathan and David believe that the uncircumcised heathen should not be allowed to defy the armies of the living God. Both Jonathan and David believe that God will give the victory no matter how overwhelming the odds may appear.
It is interesting to observe that we are told of four “loves” in reference to David. In each instance, the same Hebrew word is employed, and in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the same Greek word (a verb form of agapao; the noun form would be agape9) is used.10 These “loves” are not all the same.
The first love is Saul’s “love” for David:
David came to Saul and stood before him. Saul liked him a great deal, and he became his armor bearer (1 Samuel 16:21).
And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21, ESV).
The ESV has rendered the text more literally, while the NET has rendered it in a way that is closer to the reality. Saul’s “love” for David was temporary and fickle, at best. At this moment in time, David met a very real need in Saul’s life. His music calmed Saul’s troubled spirit. Saul’s “love” for David was because David “made him feel good.” We see a lot of this kind of love today. When the good feelings pass, so does this kind of “love.” By 1 Samuel 18:22, the most that can be said is that Saul is “pleased” with David, while in truth Saul looks upon David with suspicion and wants to kill him.
A second love is Michal’s love for David (1 Samuel 18:20, 28). It is not difficult to grasp that Michal would love David. He was a handsome young man, a musician, and a military hero. He was the prize “catch” of the kingdom for any woman. Her love was a romantic kind of love, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. It is a love that seems to grow cold, as we see in Michal’s response to David’s enthusiasm in dancing before the ark:
16 As the ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Saul’s daughter Michal looked out the window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him. . . . 20 When David went home to pronounce a blessing on his own house, Michal, Saul’s daughter, came out to meet him. She said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself this day! He has exposed himself today before his servants’ slave girls the way a vulgar fool might do!” (2 Samuel 6:16, 20)11
Third, we see the people’s love for David.
16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he was the one leading them out to battle and back. . . . 22 Then Saul instructed his servants, “Tell David secretly, ‘The king is pleased with you, and all his servants like [love] you. So now become the king’s son-in-law” (1 Samuel 18:16, 22).
David was the kind of person the people wanted as their king. Not only was David handsome and courageous, but he was successful in giving Israel victory over the Philistines. He succeeded in the dangerous missions even though Saul assigned him hoping they would bring about his death. And we are also told that David “went out and came in before the people” (1 Samuel 18:13b, NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJ). I think the author is telling us more than just the fact that David “led the army out to battle and back.”12 I think that the author is telling us that David had a presence with the people, whereas Saul probably was more aloof and distant, not too different from what we will later see in David, in contrast to the presence of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:1-6). Absalom will turn the people’s hearts from David to himself – so much for their “love” for David.
Fourth, we read of Jonathan’s love for David. Now here is true love,13 the kind of love we should desire to imitate:
1 When David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan and David became bound together in close friendship [literally, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David]. Jonathan loved David as much as he did his own life. 2 Saul retained David on that day and did not allow him to return to his father’s house. 3 Jonathan made a covenant with David, for he loved him as much as he did his own life. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with the rest of his gear, including his sword, his bow, and even his belt (1 Samuel 18:1-4).
Jonathan and David were kindred spirits. We can see that by comparing Jonathan’s faith and courage in fighting the Philistines in chapter 14 with David’s response to Goliath in chapter 17. Both trusted in God. Both knew that God was great and that He would give them victory, no matter what the odds. Both recognized the battle with the Philistines as a matter of God’s covenant relationship with His people. Both saw Saul for what he was, and yet they would lay down their lives to protect the life of the king.
Chapter 18 begins with a statement that Jonathan’s soul was knit to David’s soul as a result of David’s conversation with Saul. The question is, “When and where did this conversation take place?” We are told this in chapter 17, a few verses earlier:
57 So when David returned from striking down the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul. He still had the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58 Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” David replied, “I am the son of your servant Jesse in Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:57-58, emphasis mine).
When did David return from killing Goliath? We know several things that must all be taken into account:
1. There are three “returns” mentioned: (a) the return of the Israelite soldiers from chasing the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:53); (b) the return of David after killing Goliath (1 Samuel 17:57); and, (c) the return of the Israelite army, apparently led by Saul (1 Samuel 18:6).
2. We do not know for sure that after killing Goliath David went with the Israelite army in pursuit of the Philistines. We do know that after killing Goliath, David did take Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, and he also put the giant’s weapons in his tent (1 Samuel 17:54), perhaps at his home in Bethlehem (Where else would David have pitched “his tent”?).
3. The chronological sequence is not entirely clear, but it would appear that David’s conversation with Saul (1 Samuel 17:57-58) takes place after his return from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
If these assumptions are correct, then David’s conversation with Saul may not have been immediately after Goliath was slain (the Israelite army was now in hot pursuit of the Philistines), but rather sometime later, after David had gone to Jerusalem with Goliath’s head and weapons. David’s conversation with Saul could well have been at Saul’s home or in Jerusalem.
Notice that Jonathan’s soul is not said to have been knit to that of David as a result of David’s conduct on the battlefield, or even as a result of David’s words to Goliath. Jonathan’s soul was knit to David’s soul as a result of a conversation he overheard (perhaps at his home or in Jerusalem) between his father and David. I do not think David’s words, recorded in 1 Samuel 17:57-58, are the bulk of what Jonathan overheard. I would suspect David reiterated to Saul what he had said to him before he did battle with Goliath. Thus, it would be David’s faith in God and his courage that drew Jonathan’s soul to David.
Note that the first verses of 1 Samuel 18 do not focus on David’s love for Jonathan,15 but on Jonathan’s love for David. Jonathan, we are told, loved David as himself.16 We recognize that this is the fulfillment of the law.17 As a reflection of this love, Jonathan made a covenant with David. We are not told the details of this particular covenant, but from what we read in chapter 20, it seems as though this covenant is bilateral:
12 Jonathan said to David, “The Lord God of Israel is my witness. I will feel out my father about this time the day after tomorrow. If he is favorably inclined toward David, will I not then send word to you and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to do you harm, may the Lord do all this and more to Jonathan, if I don’t let you know and send word to you so you can go safely on your way. May the Lord be with you, as he was with my father. 14 While I am still alive, extend to me the loyalty of the Lord, or else I will die! 15 Don’t ever cut off your loyalty to my family, not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth 16 and called David’s enemies to account.” So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David. 17 Jonathan once again took an oath with David, because he loved him. In fact Jonathan loved him as much as he did his own life (1 Samuel 17:12-17).
Jonathan gives David his robe. As early as Genesis 37 and Joseph’s “coat of many colors,” we are aware of the significance of a man’s robe. Joseph’s robe was a symbol of his authority and his father’s favor, and that is why the first thing his brothers did when the opportunity presented itself was to strip the robe from him (Genesis 37:23). I believe that a royal robe was one of the garments Pharaoh gave to Joseph as a symbol of his authority (Genesis 41:42). So too were the royal robes of Ahab and Jehoshaphat.18 Thus, when Jonathan gives David his royal robe, he is symbolically surrendering any claim to the kingdom as Saul’s son in deference to David, who was God’s choice. Thus, when David wore Jonathan’s robe, it was Jonathan’s public testimony to his private commitment to David.
But this is not all. In addition to the robe Jonathan, gave David his armor, including his sword, his bow, and his belt.19 Once again we need to recall that from 1 Samuel 13:22 we know that only Saul and Jonathan possessed swords and spears. Jonathan did not go to the military supply depot to acquire replacement weapons. When he gave David his weapons, he had to do without. Three times we are told that Jonathan loved David as he loved his own life.20 Here, it would seem that he loved David even more than his own life, for he gave David the weapons that could mean the difference between life and death for him.
Never before in the Old Testament have I seen a man like this, a man so devoted to serve, to defend, and to promote another. And the great wonder is that this man – David – is the one God appointed to take the place that would seem to be Jonathan’s as the son of the king. Jonathan is an Old Testament Barnabas, or perhaps an Old Testament John the Baptist.
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples came into Judean territory, and there he spent time with them and was baptizing. 23 John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming to him and being baptized. 24 (For John had not yet been thrown into prison.) 25 Now a dispute came about between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew concerning ceremonial washing. 26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified – see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!” 27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but rather, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete. 30 He must become more important while I become less important” (John 3:22-30, emphasis mine).
One can hardly miss the contrast between Saul and his son Jonathan when it comes to their relationship with David. In the beginning, Saul loved David greatly, and he is grateful for David’s service to God by killing Goliath. At this point, Saul saw David as a contributor to his kingdom, but once David became popular with the people, Saul saw David as a competitor for the throne. None of this has any substance in fact, for David always sought to serve Saul by protecting and promoting his interests. Even when the opportunity came to kill Saul and to seize the kingdom, David refused. Aside from a few occasions when Saul temporarily repented, this man became a virtual Herod, who was ruthless in his efforts to be rid of anyone who might replace him.
Jonathan was the opposite of Saul in terms of his relationship with David. Jonathan was one in spirit with David in his love for God and in his desire to promote the glory of God. He loved David as himself and entered into a covenant relationship with him. He literally and symbolically surrendered any claim to the throne and supported David as Israel’s next king.
Jonathan was a kindred spirit who remained loyal to David to the very end, when he died on the battlefield with his father and brothers. David’s love for Jonathan continued after his death:
1 Then David asked, “Is anyone still left from the family of Saul, so that I may extend kindness to him for the sake of Jonathan?” 2 Now there was a servant from Saul’s house named Ziba, so he was summoned to David. The king asked him, “Are you Ziba?” He replied, “At your service.” 3 The king asked, “Is there not someone left from Saul’s family, that I may extend God’s kindness to him?” Ziba said to the king, “One of Jonathan’s sons is left; both of his feet are crippled.” 4 The king asked him, “Where is he?” Ziba told the king, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar. 5 So King David had him brought from the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar. 6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed low with his face toward the ground. David said, “Mephibosheth?” He replied, “Yes, at your service.” 7 David said to him, “Don’t be afraid, because I will certainly extend kindness to you for the sake of Jonathan your father. You will be a regular guest at my table.” 8 Then Mephibosheth bowed and said, “Of what importance am I, your servant, that you show regard for a dead dog like me?” 9 Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s attendant, and said to him, “Everything that belonged to Saul and to his entire house I hereby give to your master’s grandson. 10 You will cultivate the land for him – you and your sons and your servants. You will bring its produce and it will be food for your master’s grandson to eat. But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, will be a regular guest at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) 11 Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do everything that my lord the king has instructed his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth was a regular guest at David’s table, just as though he were one of the king’s sons (2 Samuel 9:1-11).
Years ago I was privileged to hear Dr. J. Oswald Sanders speak to a group of men in Fort Worth, Texas. His topic, like the title of one of his many books, was spiritual leadership. Here was a Christian statesman, now into his senior years, speaking to a group of younger men about what he had learned about leadership. As I recall, he summarized his message to us with these points:
Sovereignty. Sanders told how God worked in his life to make it clear that he had a new and challenging ministry for him. He was an instructor and administrator at a Bible College in New Zealand, and he was asked to become the director of the China Inland Mission (now known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship). It was not really his desire or inclination, but both he and his wife became convinced that this was God’s will for him, and so he took the position. He submitted to what he believed was the sovereign will of God.
As I think of Jonathan and David I am reminded of what Dr. Sanders shared with us years ago. Of course God made it clear to David that he would be king of Israel, but I am more interested at the moment with Jonathan and how he seems to have graciously accepted God’s sovereign will for him. Jonathan seems to have known that he would not be king of Israel in his father’s place, and that David was Saul’s replacement.21 Jonathan never questioned God’s sovereign will, but joyfully submitted to it.
I believe that Jonathan illustrates the fact that it is God who sovereignly raises up those whom He has chosen to lead. I think of the way Jesus chose His disciples, rather than to ask for volunteers. I think of the way that God set apart Barnabas and Saul for missionary service.22 I am reminded that Paul told the Ephesian elders that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers of the church in Ephesus.23 I think of Peter, James, and John, the three men who composed the inner circle of our Lord.24 All three had the same experiences. Two of the men – James and John – were brothers,25 and yet James died first,26 and John died last.27 How do you explain this other than to acknowledge that it was God’s sovereign will?
How do we explain the fact that God requires men to lead in the church, rather than women? While the Scriptures provide us with various reasons, I believe that in the final analysis we must simply submit to the Scriptural commands as the sovereign will of God. How do we explain why one gifted man rises to a position of prominence and great responsibilities while another Christian, equally gifted and spiritually committed, remains relatively obscure? I believe that we must acknowledge that this was the sovereign will of God. Jonathan recognized that it was God’s will for David to lead the nation Israel as its king, and he joyfully submitted to God’s sovereign will. More than merely passively accepting this as God’s will, Jonathan actively worked to help bring this to pass, even at the risk of his own life (at the hand of his father).28
David submitted to the sovereignty of God is a somewhat different way. David knew that he was to become Israel’s next king. He was also convinced that God would remove Saul when the time came for him to assume the throne. On two separate occasions29 David refused to take Saul’s life (or to allow one of his men to do so). Since David’s becoming king was God sovereign will He would remove Saul in His way and in His time.
Suffering. Dr. Sanders shared with us an experience he had early in his preaching ministry (nearly 60 years earlier, as I recall his comments). He had preached a sermon in a small church, and afterward he retreated to the office, which was off to the side of the church. From his office he could not help but overhear a conversation between two women outside the door. “What did you think of his sermon?” one older woman asked the other. “Not bad,” she replied, “but he will get better after he has suffered.” He then went on to tell how he nursed his first wife till she died, and later his second wife as well. Finally he cared for a niece (as I recall) who had helped him care for his wife, for she, too, died of some ailment.
Suffering prepares us for leadership. Saul doesn’t seem to have attended God’s school of suffering. He appears to have been born with a “silver spoon” in his mouth. It looks as though he was the only child of a successful rancher. When Samuel anointed Saul as Israel’s first king he almost immediately assumed the throne. David, on the other hand, was the last of eight sons, and his family was not among the elite. It would be years before David would assume the throne, after Saul’s death. During his years of service to his father and to Saul in his youth David would be refined in God’s school of suffering. He faced dangers in the field as he cared for his father’s small flock of sheep.30 In addition to this he endured those horrible seasons when Saul was troubled by the “evil spirit from the Lord.”31 And then there were those dangerous missions that David undertook for Saul, missions that Saul hoped would be the end for David,32 not to overlook those times when Saul attempted to kill David directly.33 David’s time spent in the wilderness and fleeing from Saul was like the Israelites sufferings in Egypt – these prepared him to be the shepherd God intended him to be.
It was during David’s times of suffering that Jonathan proved to be such a faithful friend. Jonathan interceded with his father, persuading him (temporarily) that David was not an enemy but a valued ally. For doing so, Jonathan put himself on his father’s “hit list”:
30 Saul became angry with Jonathan and said to him, “You stupid traitor! Don’t I realize that to your own disgrace and to the disgrace of your mother’s nakedness you have chosen this son of Jesse? 31 For as long as this son of Jesse is alive on the earth, you and your kingdom will not be established. Now, send some men and bring him to me. For he is as good as dead!” 32 Jonathan responded to his father Saul, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 Then Saul threw his spear at Jonathan in order to strike him down. So Jonathan was convinced that his father had decided to kill David. 34 Jonathan got up from the table enraged. He did not eat any food on that second day of the new moon, for he was upset that his father had humiliated David (1 Samuel 20:30-34).
Servanthood. I believe that it was God’s desire for every king of Israel to become a true servant, a man who had the interests of his fellow-Israelites at heart, a man who would use his position and power to benefit the weak and the vulnerable:
18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. 20 Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
It is not surprising that David would become such a servant, for he was a man after God’s own heart. Thus, David remained loyal to Saul to the very end. But it is most instructive and encouraging to observe that Jonathan became a servant to David. As Jonathan’s father had said,34 to support David was to surrender his claim and his hopes of ever becoming Israel’s king. This Jonathan willingly did. This kind of servanthood is extremely rare. Jonathan’s mission in life was to strengthen David’s hand, to encourage and to facilitate his rise to power, and yet in doing so he never forsook his father. You will remember that Jonathan died at his father’s side:
1 Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel. The men of Israel fled from the Philistines and many of them fell dead on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines stayed right on the heels of Saul and his sons. They struck down Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malki-Shua (1 Samuel 31:1-2).
I have no doubt that had Jonathan survived, he would have become one of David’s most faithful supporters. In God’s sovereign plan, Saul and all of his heirs (to the throne) would perish. There was not one survivor who could sustain Saul’s dynasty. David would now have a fresh start.
Let me now turn to some specific areas of application.
First, I find that genuine commitment does not resist expressing that in the form of a covenant. Jonathan and David had a great love for each other – not a sexual love, but a genuine manly love between two brothers in faith. They did not hesitate to formalize their commitment35 to each other in the form of a covenant. Expressing their love and commitment is not without precedent, for God had expressed His love and commitment to Abraham and his descendants in the form of a covenant.36
Why is it, then, that men and women are not willing to formalize their love and commitment to each other in the form of marriage vows?37 Marriage is a covenant, as we see from Malachi 2:14. And yet I’ve heard something like this said:
“We don’t need to geta marriage license and a ceremony. We don’t need a piece of paper to prove our love and commitment.”
But why not formalize a man’s love for the woman he professes to love, and a woman’s love for her man? True love and commitment is worthy of a covenant. Commitments which cannot be put in covenant form are hardly commitments at all.
Jonathan loved David as himself, just as Christians are to love others as themselves.
1 When David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan and David became bound together in close friendship. Jonathan loved David as much as he did his own life. 2 Saul retained David on that day and did not allow him to return to his father’s house. 3 Jonathan made a covenant with David, for he loved him as much as he did his own life (1 Samuel 18:1-3).38
In loving David as himself, Jonathan fulfilled the Old Testament law39 and the teachings of Jesus and His apostles in the New:
9 For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-10).40
Do we wish to know what it means to love one’s neighbor as one’s self? Then let us consider Jonathan’s love for David.
Jonathan also models what it looks like to be of one heart and soul – that is, to live in Christian unity. We are familiar with Paul’s instruction in Romans 12 and Philippians chapter 2:
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16).
1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose (Philippians 2:1-2).
Does this mean that Christians must agree on every point? I think not. I believe that the unity of heart and soul that we see between Jonathan and David illustrates what Paul was talking about. It means that they were of one mind that God had taken the kingdom from Saul and had given it to David. It means that they both loved God more than anything, and shared a common faith in God’s power and goodness. It means that they both sought to glorify God more than to seek glory for themselves.
Which leads to my next point: Jonathan and David were of one heart and mind in that the supreme goal of their life was to glorify God. When person’s highest goal is to seek to glory for himself every other person becomes the competition. When two or more people share the supreme goal of glorifying God, they can work together in harmony. Saul started out humbly, but he soon came to love the glory, and to do anything necessary to prevent its loss. This included killing David, and even killing his own son if need be. Saul is something like Herod when he killed the babies of Bethlehem in an effort to protect his rule.41 Saul was like the Jewish religious leaders, who sought to kill Jesus in order to protect their status.42 Jonathan, on the other hand, was willing to lay down his life to protect David and to promote his kingdom. Sharing the same highest goal is the key to unity, and there is no higher goal than seeking the glory of God:
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die (Philippians 1:19-20).
And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11).
From the lives of Jonathan and David in the Old Testament and the instruction of the New Testament we can conclude that the key to Christian unity is to have a common passion for the glory of God. When our all-consuming passion is to glorify Him, we will find that this unites us with others who hold the same passion.
Finally, Jonathan and David were of one heart and soul because both were men of humility. Since we are focusing on Jonathan at this moment, I believe that it is safe to conclude that he not only understood what Paul was saying by these words, but that he practiced it as well:
1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well (Philippians 2:1-4).
The relationship we see between Jonathan and David should serve to give us pause for thought about our relationships with others in the body of Christ. Are we truly loving others as ourselves? Are we so committed to bringing glory to God that we can forsake the foolish pursuit of glory for ourselves? Are we able to rejoice when God elevates a Christian brother or sister above us? Do we promote God’s work in the lives of others and rejoice in doing it? Do we come alongside a brother or sister when they are experiencing danger, opposition, or apparent defeat? That is what Jonathan did, and it is what we are commanded to do as well.
This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on April 1, 2007. Anyone is at liberty to use this edited manuscript for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel. Copyright 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081.
1 1 Samuel 14:1.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 1 Samuel 13:22.
4 1 Samuel 14:13-14.
5 1 Samuel 14:24.
6 1 Samuel 14:32.
7 1 Samuel 14:35. The point seems to be that his was not so much a voluntary act of true piety as much as it was an expedient action, designed to ward off divine judgment, and thus assure victory.
8 1 Samuel 14:39.
9 I make a point of this because I believe that some make too much of the Greek word agape, assuming that it always conveys the highest form of love. It may, of course, but not without a number of exceptions. For example, Amnon’s “love” for Tamar (certainly not the highest kind of love) was depicted by the same Hebrew and Greek words that we find in our text (see 2 Samuel 13:1, 4, 15).
10 This would be with the exception of 1 Samuel 18:1, because this verse is not included in the Septuagint.
11 My friend Gordon Graham pointed out that this was a marriage that had undergone a great deal of adversity. Michal put herself at risk to save David (1 Samuel 19:11-17), and then Saul gave her to Palti as his wife (1 Samuel 25:44). After Saul’s death, David became the king of Israel, and then he demanded of Abner that Michal be given back to him as his wife -- this after she had lived with Palti for some time. It would appear that Palti loved her a great deal and did not wish to lose her (2 Samuel 3:14-16). In the meantime, Gordon reminded me, David had married a number of other wives who have begotten children. It may have looked to Michal that David’s motivation was more a matter of pride than of love. David does seem to have reaffirmed his love for Michal. Gordon could be right. David may not have been as easy to love as we might wish to think.
12 So the NET Bible, and in essence along with others such as the NIV, NJB, NLT.
13 I hope it is not necessary for me to go to great lengths to prove that the “love” we see between Jonathan and David was not the perverted and immoral relationship some would seek to find in our text.
14 I must confess that one of the more perplexing aspects of my study has been dealing with the chronological sequence of events in 1 Samuel. In the first half of 1 Samuel 16 we encounter David as a young boy, it would seem, but in the second half of the chapter he is described as a “man,” indeed, “a mighty man of valor,” and he becomes Saul’s armor bearer. We are also told that Saul loved David greatly (1 Samuel 16:21), and yet in 1 Samuel 17 we find Saul asking Abner (verse 55) and then David (“young man”) who his father is (verse 58). In chapter 17 there is no mention of Jonathan, yet in the first verse of chapter 18 it sounds as though Jonathan had overheard the conversation between David and Saul on the battlefield (17:57-58). In chapter 18 we are told what the women sang who came out to greet Saul (verse 7), and that this made Saul angry, and yet it could appear that this happened immediately upon David’s return from killing Saul (verse 6), while David is still very popular with Saul. While we do not have sufficient data to resolve all of these matters, I believe that a reasonable explanation exists, and that these accounts are accurate and reliable. For this moment in time I have concluded that the author had no interest in chronological sequence, as often seems to be the case with the human authors of the Scriptures. It is because of my predisposition to think in terms of chronological sequence that I have these difficulties.
15 Though we shall surely see this later – see 2 Samuel 1:25-26.
16 1 Samuel 18:1, 3; 20:17.
17 Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; 23:39; Romans 13:9.
18 See 1 Kings 22:20, 30-33.
19 1 Samuel 18:4.
20 1 Samuel 18:1, 3; 20:17.
21 See 1 Samuel 23:16-18.
22 See Acts 13:1-4.
23 See Acts 20:28.
24 See, for example, Matthew 17:1.
25 See Matthew 4:21; Luke 5:10.
26 Acts 12:2.
27 John 1:1, 4.
28 1 Samuel 20:30-34.
29 1 Samuel 24:1-7; 26:6-12.
30 1 Samuel 17:34-36.
31 1 Samuel 16:14-23.
32 1 Samuel 18:17, 25.
33 For example, 1 Samuel 18:10-11.
34 See 1 Samuel 20:30-34 above.
35 I am convinced that this commitment was one of mutual support that would extend to their offspring. It was a commitment most specifically related to the kingdom which God was about to take from Saul and give to David.
36 See, for example, Genesis 12:1-3; 15:12-21.
37 I wish to be clearly understood here. What I am saying is an extension of a principle I see in our text, namely that true commitments are a covenant. I do not in any way wish to imply that the covenant commitment between David and Jonathan was anything like the “same-sex” commitments being made in our day.
38 See also 1 Samuel 20:17.
39 Leviticus 19:18, 34.
40 See also Matthew 22:39; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.
41 Matthew 2:1-18.
42 John 11:47-53.
This sermon was given on April 15, 2007. The transcript will be posted when it becomes available.
This sermon was given on April 22, 2007. The transcript will be posted when it becomes available.
A number of years ago, two of my friends and I were traveling in India. We were flying on a brand new Airbus from Delhi to Hyderabad, and while we were in mid-air an alarm went off. There was no indication from the performance of the aircraft that anything was wrong, but the crew was scurrying about in a way that struck me as funny. My sense was that nothing was really wrong, but that an alarm had been set off for some unexplained reason. No one seemed to know how to turn the alarm off, and eventually it was silenced, and we continued on to our destination without further incident.
It was several years later that I found out one of the men traveling with me had a very different perspective on that incident. My friend described what sounded like a near-death experience on an airplane. Then I realized he was talking about something that happened when I was with him, and I couldn’t imagine what it could be. He then explained his perspective of that same incident with the malfunctioning alarm on the Airbus headed for Hyderabad. While I was laughing, he was saying his last prayer.
People simply see things differently. That is part of the reason we have four Gospels in the New Testament with overlapping accounts of events in Israel’s history in the Old Testament. Sometimes it is not a difference in perspective, but a difference in the author’s purpose. For example, in 2 Samuel 1, David eulogizes Saul and Jonathan together, praising them as men who are great and courageous.2 A funeral is not the time to emphasize the failures and sins of the deceased. Indeed, David never seems to speak ill of Saul, except in his private conversations with Jonathan and in his prayers.3
We certainly see a significant difference in the account of 1 Kings 1from that recorded in the final chapters of 1 Chronicles.4 From the 1 Chronicles account, we might conclude that the transition from David’s reign as Israel’s king to Solomon’s was smooth and carefully orchestrated. When we come to our text in 1 Kings 1, the transition of power looks quite different. It appears that the scepter must be pried from David’s grasp and handed to Solomon. There is a good deal of intrigue in this account as well. We are saddened when we learn that Joab betrayed David and switched his allegiance to Adonijah, along with Abiathar the priest. We note the way in which Nathan and Bathsheba must “manage” David to get him to act. We wonder why we are told about the need for David to have a beautiful young virgin to warm him.
Speaking of different perspectives, our perspective in this lesson is quite different from that in our last lesson. Then we looked at David’s sin with Bathsheba as the result of David taking, as it were, an early retirement from his responsibilities as Israel’s king. This lesson approaches our text from a very different perspective. Here in 1 Kings 1, David resists retirement altogether, waiting until he has “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel” to pass the scepter to his son, Solomon.
Our text is not only fascinating, it is crucial in its implications and applications to you and to me as individuals, and to us as a church. Let us listen well to these inspired words and ask God to use His Holy Spirit to communicate the message we need to hear.
1 King David was very old; even when they covered him with blankets, he could not get warm. 2 His servants advised him, “A young virgin must be found for our master, the king, to take care of the king’s needs and serve as his nurse. She can also sleep with you and keep our master, the king, warm.” 3 So they looked through all Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The young woman was very beautiful; she became the king’s nurse and served him, but the king did not have sexual relations with her (1 Kings 1:1-4).
Before we look at our text, I would remind you of an earlier incident which prompted David’s men to insist that David no longer lead them into battle as he had once done:
15 Another battle was fought between the Philistines and Israel. So David went down with his soldiers and fought the Philistines. David became exhausted. 16 Now Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, had a spear that weighed three hundred bronze shekels, and he was armed with a new weapon. He had said that he would kill David. 17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to David’s aid, striking the Philistine down and killing him. Then David’s men took an oath saying, “You will not go out to battle with us again! You must not extinguish the lamp of Israel!” (2 Samuel 21:15-17)
As David grew older, some of his activities as a young man had to be set aside. One of these was leading his army in battle. The incident described above demonstrated that David should no longer take on “Goliath’s” in battle for two very good reasons. First, David was getting too old for this kind of strenuous activity. David became exhausted while fighting Ishbi-Benob, another Philistine giant. Abishai recognized what was happening and came to David’s aid, striking down the giant himself. David no longer had the strength for battle he once possessed. Second, there was no longer a need for David to take on giants because a number of his men did so with great success. It was one thing for David to take on Goliath when none of the Israelites had the courage or faith to do so. Now, a number of men have been inspired by David’s faith and courage, and they have taken over the “giant-killing” task.
This is not the kind of “retirement” we saw in our last lesson – David’s “early retirement” of staying in Jerusalem while Joab and the army of Israel fought the Ammonites. This “early retirement” was not due to David’s age or lack of strength; it was due to his lapse in character. Since then, David had grown older, and his strength had waned. It was not yet time for David to step down, but it was time for him to cut back in certain strenuous activities. (My wife has been telling me the same thing – no more swapping engines or transmissions.)
When we come upon David in 1 Kings 1, he is now at the end of his life. He is an old man now, and most of his strength is gone. What a pathetic sight this once vibrant man must have been as he lay shivering because he could not get warm. I am fascinated at the counsel the king’s “servants” gave.5 They concluded that the king needed a beautiful young virgin to care for his needs, which included lying beside the king. This beautiful young woman’s “ministry” to David was far from just that of a servant, or even a nurse. From what we know of David, and from what we now read in our text, it seems obvious that David’s servants expected this beautiful young woman to “get David’s motor going” once again. The reality is that David did not “know” Abishag because he could not.6
The thrust of these first four verses of 1 Kings 1 characterizes David’s overall condition, his capacity to lead if you would. What we see in our text is far from encouraging. Bluntly put, David is “over the hill,” not only unable to lead the army, or the nation, but even unable to live a normal life. David’s inability to “know” Abishag is but the first instance of David’s lack of knowledge in our text, as we will soon see. Up to this point, we should see that David lacks the capacity to lead the nation, and further events will only serve to prove this.
Adonijah was the fourth of David’s sons born to him while he reigned as king of Judah in Hebron:7
2 Now sons were born to David in Hebron. His firstborn was Amnon, born to Ahinoam the Jezreelite. 3 His second son was Kileab, born to Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. His third son was Absalom, the son of Maacah daughter of King Talmai of Geshur. 4 His fourth son was Adonijah, the son of Haggith. His fifth son was Shephatiah, the son of Abitail. 5 His sixth son was Ithream, born to David’s wife Eglah. These sons were all born to David in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:2-5).
Amnon, David’s firstborn son, raped his sister Tamar and was then killed by his brother Absalom. Absalom, David’s third son, is killed by Joab because he sought to take the kingdom from his father. No one knows what became of Kileab, the son of Abigail,8 so he is presumed by most to be dead.9 The fourth son, Adonijah, is thus first in line for the throne, if reckoned only by birth order. This is the new contender for the throne.
I am tempted to refer to Adonijah as “Absalom II,” because there are definite similarities between the two. Both are sons of David. Each, in his own time, was next in line for the throne when considered in terms of birth order. Both men were handsome,10 and both made a show of their royal status by riding about in a chariot with fifty men running before them.11 Both sought to take over the kingdom while their father was still living. Absalom seemed to make his appeal to the general populace, while Adonijah sought to win the favor of some of Israel’s leaders. Absalom would not hesitate to kill David and many others to grasp the throne; Adonijah may at least have been willing to kill any rivals or threats to his reign.12
David’s performance as a father has not been stellar. He foolishly sent Tamar to Amnon13 and thus facilitated her violation by her brother. He did not deal well with Absalom, either,14 thus contributing to Absalom’s revolt. Now, once again, we find David failing as a father:
(Now his father had never corrected him by saying, “Why do you do such things?” He was also very handsome and had been born right after Absalom.) (1 Kings 1:6)
We would probably say today that Adonijah was a royal brat. He had everything he wanted and was never called to account for his actions.
It seems as though Adonijah would have known that Solomon was the heir apparent. He certainly would have noted David’s reluctance to designate his successor and the degree to which David was out of touch and out of control of his kingdom. Waiting for David’s death would not be to his advantage. But if he could act decisively before David’s death, especially with the support of some of David’s most loyal officials, he could seize the throne. If need be, he could even eliminate Solomon and his mother, so that the designated heir to the throne would no longer pose a threat to his plans.
Somehow Adonijah succeeded in obtaining the support of some of David’s most devoted officials, specifically Joab and Abiathar. Joab was the commander of Israel’s armies, and this was crucial because successful coups require the support of the armed forces of the nation. If Joab could maintain the loyalty and support of his army, then Adonijah’s victory seemed almost certain. Abiathar shared the high priesthood with Zadok;15 Abiathar cast his lot with Adonijah, while Zadok remained faithful to David, and thus to Solomon. No doubt Adonijah planned to have Abiathar anoint him as Israel’s next king, thus giving the appearance of divine a.pproval
While Adonijah had managed to gain the support of some key leaders, he had not gained the support of all. Zadok, the other high priest, Benaiah (one of David’s top military commanders), Nathan the prophet, 16and David’s elite warriors (the Kerethites and Pelethites – see verse 38) remained loyal to their king.
Adonijah made his intentions clear – he definitely intended to be Israel’s next king. He sounds rather like some politicians today, announcing their candidacy for president. He acquired all of the trappings of royalty and flaunted them to buttress his intentions:
Now Adonijah, son of David and Haggith, was promoting himself, boasting, “I will be king!” He managed to acquire chariots and horsemen, as well as fifty men to serve as his royal guard (1 Kings 1:5).
When the time was right, Adonijah held a feast, a seemingly apt occasion to designate himself as David’s replacement.17 Things appeared to be going according to Adonijah’s plan.
11 Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Has it been reported to you that Haggith’s son Adonijah has become king behind our master David’s back? 12 Now let me give you some advice as to how you can save your life and your son Solomon’s life. 13 Visit King David and say to him, ‘My master, O king, did you not solemnly promise your servant, “Surely your son Solomon will be king after me; he will sit on my throne”? So why has Adonijah become king?’ 14 While you are still there speaking to the king, I will arrive and verify your report” (1 Kings 1:11-14).
This is really great drama. It would seem that Adonijah’s banquet has already begun, and it will not be long before this usurper is proclaimed king. (Perhaps the plan was for Abiathar to anoint him as king during the feast, and then Joab would lead a procession to Jerusalem, where Adonijah would take the throne.) Time was of the essence. Something had to be done, and done quickly.
Nathan knew what Adonijah was up to. It seems to me that Nathan was also clear on the fact that Solomon was God’s choice as David’s successor. This may have been made known to him shortly after Solomon’s birth, and perhaps this text is an indication of Solomon’s favored status before God:
24 So David comforted his wife Bathsheba. He went to her and had marital relations with her. She gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. Now the Lord loved the child 25 and sent word through Nathan the prophet that he should be named Jedidiah for the Lord’s sake (2 Samuel 12:24-25).
Nathan had played a very significant role in David’s life and his reign as king. Nathan was the prophet through whom God conveyed the Davidic Covenant, God’s promise to build David a “house” (a dynasty) as we find in 2 Samuel 7. It was also Nathan who confronted David regarding his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah her husband (2 Samuel 12). As we can see from the text above, it was also Nathan who conveyed God’s favor toward Solomon. Now, it somehow seems fitting that Nathan would be the one to become aware of Adonijah’s scheme and to see to it that David is informed that he is in the process of declaring himself to be king of Israel. He does so by enlisting Bathsheba’s support.
Nathan not only informs Bathsheba of Adonijah’s plot but makes it clear to her that should he succeed in usurping the throne, both she and her son Solomon would likely be killed. When Adonijah seizes power, he will not leave any rivals, especially Solomon. Nathan instructs Bathsheba to approach David and remind him of his oath to her that Solomon would reign in his place. She is then to ask David if he intends to keep his oath. If so, then how is it that Adonijah has become king? (Granted, Adonijah is only in the process of achieving this, but asking her question as Nathan has instructed serves to underscore the urgency of the situation and thus the need for an immediate response from David.)
15 So Bathsheba visited the king in his private quarters. (The king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was serving the king.) 16 Bathsheba bowed down on the floor before the king. The king said, “What do you want?” 17 She replied to him, “My master, you swore an oath to your servant by the Lord your God, ‘Solomon your son will be king after me and he will sit on my throne.’ 18 But now, look, Adonijah has become king! But you, my master the king, are not even aware of it! 19 He has sacrificed many cattle, steers, and sheep and has invited all the king’s sons, Abiathar the priest, and Joab, the commander of the army, but he has not invited your servant Solomon. 20 Now, my master, O king, all Israel is watching anxiously to see who is named to succeed my master the king on the throne. 21 If a decision is not made, when my master the king is buried with his ancestors, my son Solomon and I will be considered state criminals” (1 Kings 1:15-21).
I can only imagine Bathsheba’s emotional response when she came to the king while he was being served by Abishag. Nevertheless, she bowed before the king and carried out Nathan’s instructions. She first reminded David of the oath he swore to give the throne to Solomon. Next, she informs David that Adonijah has seized the throne, and he does not even know18 it (verse 18). Bathsheba then tells David what Adonijah is doing at this very moment to finalize his coup. He is sacrificing many cattle for the feast to which he has invited all of David’s sons, except Solomon, along with Abiathar the priest and Joab the commander of the army. If David does not act promptly, the deed will already have been done, and Solomon and his mother will become criminals.
22 Just then, while she was still speaking to the king, Nathan the prophet arrived. 23 The king was told, “Nathan the prophet is here.” Nathan entered and bowed before the king with his face to the floor. 24 Nathan said, “My master, O king, did you announce, ‘Adonijah will be king after me; he will sit on my throne’? 25 For today he has gone down and sacrificed many cattle, steers, and sheep and has invited all the king’s sons, the army commanders, and Abiathar the priest. At this moment they are having a feast in his presence, and they have declared, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But he did not invite me – your servant – or Zadok the priest, or Benaiah son of Jehoiada, or your servant Solomon. 27 Has my master the king authorized this without informing your servants who should succeed my master the king on his throne?” (1 Kings 1:22-27)
Nathan’s timing was perfect. He arrived while Bathsheba was still speaking, so that he was able to confirm all that she had said. It would appear that Bathsheba said her piece and then left.19 Nathan does not give a “Thus saith the Lord;” he simply asks David a question. Did David proclaim Adonijah to be his successor? That was certainly the appearance of the day’s events. He then told of the sacrifice, the feast, and those who were invited. Those at the feast were proclaiming Adonijah as the king, and all this was done without Nathan, Zadok, Benaiah, or Solomon, who had been deliberately excluded from these festivities. “Is it true,” Nathan asks David, “that you have authorized this without making it known to your most faithful servants?”
28 King David responded, “Summon Bathsheba!” She came and stood before the king. 29 The king swore an oath: “As certainly as the Lord lives (he who has rescued me from every danger), 30 I will keep today the oath I swore to you by the Lord God of Israel: ‘Surely Solomon your son will be king after me; he will sit in my place on my throne.’” 31 Bathsheba bowed down to the king with her face to the floor and said, “May my master, King David, live forever!” 32 King David said, “Summon Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” They came before the king, 33 and he told them, “Take your master’s servants with you, put my son Solomon on my mule, and lead him down to Gihon. 34 There Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet will anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet and declare, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 Then follow him up as he comes and sits on my throne. He will be king in my place; I have decreed that he will be ruler over Israel and Judah” (1 Kings 1:28-35).
For a few moments, David acts like the king he is supposed to be. If Abishag could not warm David up, the reports of Bathsheba and Nathan did. Can’t you just see him pushing Abishag out of his bed, setting up, and issuing orders? He first summoned Bathsheba, assuring her that he would keep his oath and that he would see to it that Solomon, her son, became king in his place. In gratitude and humility, Bathsheba bowed before David saying, “May my master, King David, live forever!” (verse 31). And so he would, thanks to his descendant, the Son of David, Messiah.
Then David summoned Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada. When they appeared before him, David gave the authorization and instructions whereby Solomon would be declared King of Israel that very day. They were to go with David’s servants and place Solomon on his mule, then lead him down to the valley just below Jerusalem to the Gihon spring20 and there anoint him king, blowing the trumpet to declare Solomon King of Israel. Benaiah responded, embracing Solomon as the one the Lord would bless, even as He had David.
38 So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites, and the Pelethites went down, put Solomon on King David’s mule, and led him to Gihon. 39 Zadok the priest took a horn filled with olive oil from the tent and poured it on Solomon; the trumpet was blown and all the people declared, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 All the people followed him up, playing flutes and celebrating so loudly they made the ground shake (1 Kings 1:38-40).
While Adonijah and his guests celebrated their feast, Solomon was being officially designated as David’s successor. Zadok the priest anointed Solomon, and Nathan the prophet gave evidence of God’s appointment. David’s mule provided another indication that Solomon was David’s choice for Israel’s king. While a few key leaders toasted Adonijah as king, the people of Jerusalem embraced Solomon as their king. Adonijah’s plan had failed as he is soon to discover.
41 Now Adonijah and all his guests heard the commotion just as they had finished eating. When Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he asked, “Why is there such a noisy commotion in the city?” 42 As he was still speaking, Jonathan son of Abiathar the priest arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in, for an important man like you must be bringing good news.” 43 Jonathan replied to Adonijah: “No! Our master King David has made Solomon king. 44 The king sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites, and the Pelethites and they put him on the king’s mule. 45 Then Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed him king in Gihon. They went up from there rejoicing, and the city is in an uproar. That is the sound you hear. 46 Furthermore, Solomon has assumed the royal throne. 47 The king’s servants have even come to congratulate our master King David, saying, ‘May your God make Solomon more famous than you and make him an even greater king than you!’ Then the king leaned on the bed 48 and said this: ‘The Lord God of Israel is worthy of praise because today he has placed a successor on my throne and allowed me to see it’” (1 Kings 1:41-48).
Adonijah had been planning for this day for a long time, and now he appears to be basking in the glory of his self-proclaimed ascent to the throne. Those gathered around him are those who have assisted him in his rise to power. They have, in fact, staked their future on Adonijah’s success. From all appearances, it is a “done deal.” As someone has said, “It’s all over but the shouting.” In fact, the shouting has commenced (see verse 25). But in the midst of their celebration just outside the city of Jerusalem an even more thunderous celebration was heard coming from within Jerusalem. Joab heard the sound of the trumpet (I suppose a military commander would be especially alert for the sounding of a trumpet) and inquired about it just as Jonathan (the son of Abiathar the priest who supported Adonijah) arrived from the city. Adonijah assumed this must be a harbinger of good news, but it was quite the contrary, as Jonathan announced. David had just proclaimed Solomon to be the new king of Israel. And so he told Adonijah what had been going on back in Jerusalem, rendering all of this usurper’s efforts worthless.
49 All of Adonijah’s guests panicked; they jumped up and rushed off their separate ways. 50 Adonijah feared Solomon, so he got up and went and grabbed hold of the horns of the altar. 51 Solomon was told, “Look, Adonijah fears you; see, he has taken hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘May King Solomon solemnly promise me today that he will not kill his servant with the sword.’” 52 Solomon said, “If he is a loyal subject, not a hair of his head will be harmed, but if he is found to be a traitor, he will die.” 53 King Solomon sent men to bring him down from the altar. He came and bowed down to King Solomon, and Solomon told him, “Go home” (1 Kings 1:49-53).
When I read these words, I am reminded of those who were accusing the woman caught in the act of adultery in a way that would put Jesus at odds with the Law of Moses:
7 When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. 9 Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him (John 8:7-9).
Those who attended Adonijah’s feast had taken a certain risk when they chose to identify themselves with his cause of seizing the throne. If he had succeeded, they would have been given places of leadership as a part of his administration. But if he failed, they would go down with him. It is no wonder that folks couldn’t get away from this feast fast enough! Adonijah seized the horns of the altar, hoping that Solomon would have mercy on him. And he did, so long as Adonijah remained a loyal subject. So Adonijah was brought down from the altar to appear before Solomon, to whom he bowed down in submission (at least for the moment). Solomon then sent him to his home.
In some ways, the circumstances of this text are a far cry from anything we experience today, but having said this, there are a number of ways in which 1 Kings 1 does relate to us. I would like to suggest a few by way of application.
(1) The text is but one more example of the sovereignty of God. When I speak of the sovereignty of God, I am referring to God’s absolute control over this world, and in particular, His ability to bring to pass every plan and promise He has made. I love the way Nebuchadnezzar put it, many years later:
34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me. I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his authority is an everlasting authority, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35)
There are two ways in which the sovereignty of God is evident in our text. First, we see the sovereignty of God in the appointment of Solomon as David’s successor. Look at the intrigue on Adonijah’s part, along with his accomplices. There is a very well orchestrated plan to put Adonijah into power. When we look at David, we find an old man who is about to die and yet is unwilling to relinquish his control, totally unaware of the fact that Adonijah is seizing his kingdom as David lays shivering in his bed. Although God has purposed for Solomon to reign in David’s place, it would seem as though bringing this to pass were impossible. And yet, at the end of this chapter, Solomon is reigning as the King of Israel, while Adonijah is kneeling in submission at his feet. God’s purposes and promises are always fulfilled because God is in control, even when things seem to be in utter chaos.
There is a second evidence of God’s sovereignty, which is not revealed until 1 Kings 2:
Solomon dismissed Abiathar from his position as priest of the Lord, fulfilling the decree of judgment the Lord made in Shiloh against the family of Eli (1 Kings 2:27).
Years before David came to power, God had indicated to Eli that his priesthood would come to an end because of Eli’s unfaithfulness in refusing to discipline his sons for grave priestly misconduct:
27 A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Did I not plainly reveal myself to your ancestor’s house when they were in Egypt in the house of Pharaoh? 28 I chose your ancestor from all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer sacrifice on my altar, to burn incense, and to bear the ephod before me. I gave to your ancestor’s house all the fire offerings made by the Israelites. 29 Why are you scorning my sacrifice and my offering that I commanded for my dwelling place? You have honored your sons more than you have me by having made yourselves fat from the best parts of all the offerings of my people Israel.’ 30 Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘I really did say that your house and your ancestor’s house would serve me forever.’ But now the Lord says, ‘May it never be! For I will honor those who honor me, but those who despise me will be cursed! 31 In fact, days are coming when I will remove your strength and the strength of your father’s house. There will not be an old man in your house! 32 You will see trouble in my dwelling place! Israel will experience blessings, but there will not be an old man in your house for all time. 33 Any one of you that I do not cut off from my altar, I will cause your eyes to fail and will cause you grief. All of those born to your family will die in the prime of life. 34 This will be a confirming sign for you that will be fulfilled through your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: in a single day they both will die! 35 Then I will raise up for myself a faithful priest. He will do what is in my heart and soul. I will build for him a secure dynasty and he will serve my chosen one for all time. 36 Everyone who remains in your house will come to bow before him for a little money and for a scrap of bread. Each will say, ‘Assign me to a priestly task so I can eat a scrap of bread’” (1 Samuel 2:27-36).21
Eli’s priestly dynasty was going to be terminated and replaced by another (not unlike the way Saul’s kingly dynasty was replaced by the line of David). His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed on the same day by the Philistines, and when he heard the news, Eli died as well, just as God had said.22 When David went to Nob to seek help from Ahimelech the priest,23 he did not tell him that he was fleeing from Saul, and as a result when Saul learned that Ahimelech had (innocently, as we are informed) assisted David, he had Ahimelech and his household slaughtered.24 Only one descendant escaped and survived – Abiathar – who served David from then on.25
When David began to reign as king, Abiathar (a descendant of Ithamar), the sole survivor of Eli’s line, served jointly with Zadok (a descendant of Eleazar) as Israel’s high priests.26 But in 1 Kings 1, we read that Abiathar chose to side with Adonijah in his revolt; thus when Solomon became king, he dismissed him from the priesthood. This, we are told, was the fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken to Eli, which we have just seen in 1 Samuel 2. In the midst of all the intrigue and upheaval going on in relation to David, Solomon, Adonijah, Zadok and Abiathar, God fulfilled His words to Eli through Samuel many years before.
We live in a chaotic and unpredictable world. Yet it will be in the midst of such chaos that God will fulfill His promises, prophecies, and divine purposes just as He said, and just when He planned to do it. Isn’t it wonderful to know that if we are Christians, our lives are in His hands, and our future is secure? Only those who have rejected God have reason to fear.
(2) David and Messiah. David is often a prototype of the Messiah who (from an Old Testament perspective) was yet to come. For example, we find David’s sufferings, as described in Psalm 22 (and elsewhere), to be a picture of the suffering of Messiah on the cross.
One has to wonder why Joab and Abiathar chose to cast their lot with Adonijah, thereby forsaking their loyalty to David and to Solomon. These were men who spent years serving David in the most dangerous and difficult seasons of his life. Why did they forsake David now? I think it is because they perceived him to be old and incompetent, and at the same time, unwilling to surrender the throne to his successor.
I wonder if this is something like the way our Lord’s disciples felt when they forsook Jesus and fled (and Peter did more than this – he denied his Master). Jesus had been introduced by John the Baptist as the Promised Messiah. Jesus confirmed His identity as Messiah by His claims, His teaching, and His miraculous works. The disciples had grandiose visions of what this would mean for Israel and for them personally. They expected Jesus to overthrow Rome, to throw the Jewish rascals (the scribes and Pharisees and the Jewish officials) out, and then to immediately establish the kingdom. But as the time of His death drew near, the disciples began to realize that something very different was taking place. While Peter had drawn his sword and drawn first blood, Jesus rebuked him and then surrendered to those who came to arrest Him. Jesus was not performing according to the disciples’ expectations. As He stood before Pilate and Herod, mocked and abused by the Roman guards and others, He looked weak and powerless, not unlike the way David seemed powerless as he lay trembling in his bed.
David died, no more to reign. Jesus died, too, and His disciples drew the false conclusion that it was all over for them as well.27 All hope of reigning with Him in His kingdom seemed to have been lost. But what a contrast between David, whose body remained in Jerusalem,28 and Jesus, whose body was raised in power. We do not serve a powerless Savior; we serve a powerful Savior who will live forever, so that our hope in Him is sure:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
David did not know what was going on; our Lord Jesus knows all. David was unwilling to relinquish his throne, even though he was incapable of carrying out his duties. Our Lord was fully capable and worthy to reign at His Father’s side, but in submission to the will of the Father, and to save us, our Lord relinquished His heavenly splendor to take on human flesh and dwell among men, to suffer and to die to save guilty sinners:
5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
When Jesus presented Himself to the Jewish nation as their long awaited Messiah, some followed Him as His disciples. Their expectations grew as they came to realize His wisdom and power. You can see by the kinds of questions the disciples privately debated among themselves that they had high hopes of positions and power in Messiah’s kingdom, a kingdom which they believed to be imminent. You can imagine their dismay when Jesus surrendered to those who came to arrest Him, when Jesus allowed Himself to be mocked and beaten, and then to be hung on a Roman cross. At this point in time, the disciples must have felt toward Jesus much the same as Joab and Abiathar felt toward David, in his weakened condition, soon to die.
But how different reality is from mere appearance! Jesus was not powerless at all. Jesus had not lost control. No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of His own volition.29 Jesus was raised in power from the dead, no more to die. He will reign forever; His kingdom will never end. David’s weakness was dealt with by the succession of power to Solomon. Our Lord’s “weakness” was dealt with by His resurrection. There will never be a point in time when we need to consider other options (as did Joab and Abiathar), because Jesus never fails. What a joy it is to know that when we trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, we commit ourselves to the all-powerful, all-loving, ever-living God.
(3) Lessons in leadership. David was a great man, a man with a heart for God. He became God’s standard for all subsequent kings. But for all of this, David was still just a man, a man who had feet of clay, just like you and me. David was a great leader, but he failed. He failed morally with Bathsheba and Uriah. He failed at fathering. He failed at making the succession of his reign a smooth transition.
Which leads me to this conclusion: All leaders fail, and some great leaders fail greatly. It is always a disappointment when a leader fails, but this should not take us completely by surprise, as though such things never happen, or as though leaders are exempt from the temptations and sins of others. We should not expect our leaders to be perfect; neither should we make excuses for their failures.
Children, if you haven’t already figured it out, your parents fail. They are not omniscient, and thus you may get the blame for something you didn’t do. Your punishment may be more than you think your sin deserves. The advice your parents give may not always be correct. What they permit or forbid may not always be flawless. And that is because they are human.
Church members, your church leaders are not perfect. Each one has weaknesses and predispositions toward some particular sin. Any leader who seeks to give you the impression that he lives a sinless life, above the temptations and trials of other men, is either self-deceived or a deceiver. This is why the Bible not only sets standards for church leaders, it also outlines the process for rebuke and correction when a man fails, including leaders. This is also why God has prescribed a form of church government that employs the principle of plurality. The church should be guided and governed by a plurality of men, each with different spiritual gifts and different perspectives. In this way, church leaders hold each other to account, just as they hold church members in general accountable.
(4) Success is dependent upon succession. I suspect that a good many sermons will be preached this Sunday on the subject of success. Who does not want to be successful? Our text teaches that in order for David to be successful, he must prepare for and promote succession. God promised to give David an eternal kingdom, but that did not mean that David would be king forever. Only the Messiah could fulfill this prophecy. God promised David a dynasty, and Solomon was the one who was to reign in his place. Yet, David seems to resist passing the torch. He does not appear to “disciple” Solomon in such a way as to prepare him for the task ahead. David is told that he cannot build the temple, but he does almost everything short of actually building the temple. His excuse is that Solomon is too young and inexperienced:
David said, “My son Solomon is just an inexperienced young man, and the temple to be built for the Lord must be especially magnificent so it will become famous and be considered splendid by all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for its construction.” So David made extensive preparations before he died (1 Chronicles 22:5; see also 29:1-2).
Thanks to David, he will be “young and inexperienced” when it comes time for him to assume the throne.
5 One night in Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream. God said, “Tell me what I should give you.” 6 Solomon replied, “You demonstrated great loyalty to your servant, my father David, as he served you faithfully, properly, and sincerely. You have maintained this great loyalty to this day by allowing his son to sit on his throne. 7 Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in my father David’s place, even though I am only a young man and am inexperienced. 8 Your servant stands among your chosen people; they are a great nation that is too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning mind so he can make judicial decisions for your people and distinguish right from wrong. Otherwise no one is able to make judicial decisions for this great nation of yours” (1 Kings 3:5-9).
The fact is that no one is ever capable of leading the people of God. That is why God’s Spirit was bestowed on Israel’s king to empower him to rule. When Solomon became king, he knew that the job was bigger than he was, and so he asked God for wisdom. God solved Solomon’s problem of youth and lack of experience by giving him great wisdom through the Holy Spirit. But could David not have contributed to Solomon’s preparation for the throne by giving him instruction like that we find in the Book of Proverbs? Could David not have given Solomon some tasks to accomplish that would have prepared him for leadership in the future? Even pagan kings practiced co-regency, where both Father and son shared the throne, so that the son might carry on in the father’s absence.
I believe one of the great dangers of leadership is that we cease to view it as a stewardship, and we come to think of it in terms of ownership. If we think of ourselves as owners, we are very reluctant to step aside or to step down. We view future leaders as a threat, which is why dictators do not empower their subordinates, for fear they will seek to take over. This is why the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were so threatened by Jesus. He was a threat to their position and power:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (John 11:47-48).
(5) I take our text and its implications personally. I am approaching my 64th birthday, and in the minds of many, that is just one year from “retirement.” I do not plan to retire from active ministry while my health and other circumstances allow it, but I do resolve not to cling to my position as David did, so that death is required to remove and replace me by those who are younger and more capable. I don’t want others to have to “prop me up” and seek to squeeze a few extra miles from my aged mind and body, as they did David.
My desire is to play an enthusiastic and active role in the process of succession. I am speaking not only in reference to my leadership role as a preacher, but also of my role as an elder. In churches like ours, which seek to follow New Testament principles, it is sometimes assumed that because the New Testament does not specify any term of office for either elders or deacons, these must be “lifetime” positions. That is an argument from silence, and thus it is like saying that because the New Testament does not mention Sunday school or church camps that these are unbiblical. I have heard of situations in which an elder was actually senile, and yet no one dared to ask him to step aside. What a tragic way to end a fruitful ministry.
Why not step down and let others take over? I can think of at least three reasons we refuse to step aside. The first is that our ego is too tied to a position and to the power it seems to afford us. We can’t conceive of ministry apart from an official position. The second reason is that we, like David, use the youth and inexperience of the next generation as a compelling reason for us to continue. No one can do it as well as we can, and so we can’t step down. The third reason is what I call “the founding father syndrome.” I am one of the founders of our church, and so I can at least understand how this mindset works. We worked hard to build the church, and we are reluctant to hand its leadership over to those who did not “pay the price” we paid. More than this, we fear that stepping aside and turning the leadership of the church over to others will mean that things will change. If “we did it right” and nothing needs changing, then change will be viewed as something undesirable, even evil.
At this point in time, I believe that existing leadership can fulfill a very vital function – transition. How much better transition is compared to revolution or, worse yet, a church split? As the founding generation of a church grows older, change is absolutely necessary. If nothing else, the founding generation will die off. But one way or the other, new leadership must be recognized, embraced, and supported. I want to be a constructive part of this process, and I believe that my fellow elders feel the same way. That is why we have in recent years added some younger elders, men who will lead us for many years to come. My desire is that more “next generation” elders will be added as we move forward. Succession is one key to success, not to mention survival. I want to be like Jonathan, Saul’s son, who recognized that God had chosen someone else to lead the nation, and then did everything he could to facilitate and support this change. I want to be like Barnabas, who sought out Paul and promoted his ministry, so that Paul eventually became the leader.
As I think about the men who have served as elders at Community Bible Chapel, I find some wonderful examples of men who have been committed to the importance of succession in leadership. I can well remember Lee,30 a friend and fellow elder, urging us to work harder at developing new leadership for our church. Several other men have served us well as elders, and for a variety of reasons, stepped aside from this office. They have continued to serve our church well in other capacities, and they have set a precedent for others to follow. One need not die or be found guilty of some serious sin to step down as an elder. Indeed, they may even make a greater contribution in their new avenues of service.
(6) Some broader implications of the principle of succession. As I have already indicated, this matter of succession applies much more broadly than just to men like me. It applies to all those who hold leadership offices or who fulfill leadership functions. The issue isn’t just one’s age or mental capacity. A leader may find that he has other responsibilities that may take precedence, perhaps only for a period of time. A leader may realize that he has become weary and needs to be refreshed. I have one friend who served as an elder in another church. When he began to serve, he resolved to serve for ten years and no more. I believe that this had a very beneficial impact on the church where he shared in leadership.
Parents must likewise come to terms with the necessity for succession. Parenting is not a lifetime job. We are to prepare our children for the challenges of adulthood. In the earliest days of a child’s life, parents must practice total leadership. We decide what the child eats and when. We decide when the child must take a nap or go to bed for the night. We choose how and where the child will be educated. But as time passes, we must begin the transitional process which prepares them for succession. Whether we like it or not, a day may come when they will become our “parents,” so to speak. They may decide when it is past time for us to live alone or to drive a car, and thus we have some strong incentives for preparing them well.
The principle of succession necessitates evangelism and discipleship. Even our Lord Jesus practiced the principle of succession. He knew that after His sacrificial death, bodily resurrection, and ascension, the work that He had begun was to be carried out by His apostles (initially) and then by the church.
1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen (Acts 1:1-2, emphasis mine).
Throughout His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus was preparing His disciples to continue the work that He began. Today that work continues through the church. We are “His body,” the “body of Christ,” carrying out the work He commenced. We are to minister to those in need, as Jesus did when He was on the earth. We are to minister to one another in the power of the Spirit, as Jesus ministered to His disciples. We are to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of those from every nation. Humanly speaking, the church would die, and thus God’s purposes on this earth through the church will come to an end unless Christians are faithful to proclaim the good news of the gospel to lost sinners, and then to disciple those who come to faith in Jesus. Once again we see the importance of the principle of succession. It is a most serious failure (let’s just go ahead and call it sin) to enjoy the benefits of our salvation without sharing them with others. The Lord Jesus saved us and made us His disciples so that we would bear “much fruit.” In fact, bearing much fruit is one evidence that we are His disciples:
“My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples” (John 15:8).
(7) The principle of succession is crucial to our survival and success as a church. When our church began over thirty years ago, we were all young. In fact, the “elders” were so young31 we jokingly referred to ourselves as the “youngers.” Nobody in their right mind calls us that any longer! There is nothing wrong with gray hair, but it does serve to remind us that we won’t be here forever. And I’m not just talking about the elders. Some of you folks are getting old as well. If we are going to see this church thrive in the future, then we must see church growth by evangelism. We must see those in the younger generation coming to faith. We must faithfully nurture these new believers so that they come to maturity.
The same fears that can hinder elders (new, younger, leadership will mean change) can also hinder the church as a whole. As God graciously works to save those in the next generation, the church will undergo a certain amount of change. Of course it must not change in its understanding and practice relative to the fundamental doctrines of the faith! But it will inevitably change in some of its cultural dimensions. We have seen some of this already. The older generation (of which I am a part) loves hymns, while the younger generation has its praise songs. The older generation loves the piano and organ; the younger generation loves its guitars and drums. We – the older generation – are going to need to adapt and to accommodate the younger generation in non-essential matters. If we refuse, the younger generation will go elsewhere, and we (our church) will eventually pass off the scene.
Let those of us who are more mature (okay, older) embrace the principle of succession. Let us recognize that we are soon to become a bygone generation, and that the next generation of leaders needs to be prepared for the task ahead. Let us commit ourselves to the task of passing the torch to those who are younger, and let us determine to make some of the adjustments necessary for this to happen. We who are passing the torch should expect that the next generation is going to do some things better than we did (just as Solomon did a number of things better than David did). We should also expect that they will make some mistakes in the process, just as we made our mistakes (and continue to do so). Our Lord Jesus informed Peter (and us) that his failure would be a part of the process He would use to make him a godly leader:
31 “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
Let those who are younger appreciate the wisdom, labor, and sacrifices of those who have gone before them. Let them show love, respect and consideration for the generation to which they owe so much. And let us all purpose to do this in unity. May we not find it expedient to “go our separate ways,” rather than to preserve and to practice the unity of the saints:
1 I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6).
It is not uniformity (“birds of a feather”) that demonstrates discipleship, but our unity in the midst of diversity. May God grant that we, as a church, may prove ourselves to be His disciples as we pass the torch to the next generation.
1 Copyright © 2007 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the Becoming a Leader after God’s Heart: Studies in the Life of David, a mini-series of Following Jesus in a Me-First World, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 29, 2007. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
2 See 2 Samuel 1:17-27.
3 If I were to identify one guiding principle for the inclusion or exclusion of information that might be found elsewhere, it would be the principle of edification, as found in 1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:29, and Philippians 4:8. Many truths are not profitable. Information is included or excluded in Scripture based upon the whether it will or will not edify. This may vary from one book or from one text to another because of the author’s purpose in a particular text.
4 See especially chapters 22-23 and 28-29 of 1 Chronicles.
5 The counsel of these “servants,” whoever they were, is perplexing indeed. It seemed like a futile and foolish effort of some to squeeze a few more miles out of David, but they were simply not there.
6 Iain W. Provan includes an additional note in his commentary which convincingly shows that Abishag’s ministry was sexual, indeed even primarily sexual, in nature. See Iain W. Provan, (1 and 2 Kings, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), pp. 27-28.
7 In 2 Samuel 5:13-16 and 1 Chronicles 3:5-8, we find a list of the sons born to David in Jerusalem.
8 Also known as Daniel, as we find in 1 Chronicles 3:1.
9 In 1 Kings 1:6 we are told that Adonijah was born “right after Absalom” (so NET Bible) or “next after Absalom” (so ESV, NIV).
10 Compare 2 Samuel 14:25-26 with 1 Kings 1:6.
11 Compare 2 Samuel 15:1 with 1 Kings 1:5.
12 1 Kings 1:11-12, 21.
13 2 Samuel 13:7.
14 2 Samuel 13-15.
15 2 Samuel 8:17; 19:11; 20:25; 1 Kings 1:7-8, etc.
16 Notice that Adonijah had a high priest, but not a prophet (as did David).
17 Remember that both Saul (1 Samuel 9) and David (1 Samuel 16) were designated as kings in the context of a sacrificial meal.
18 This is the same Hebrew word (meaning “to know”) found in verse 4. A beautiful young virgin is lying in bed next to David to “keep him warm” and yet David is not able to “know” her. Now, a self-seeking son of David has usurped the throne, and David does not even “know” it. What a way to underscore David’s age and diminished capacity, and the urgent need for him to designate his successor and step aside.
19 According to verse 28, after Nathan’s confirmation, David will summon Bathsheba to appear before him once again.
20 Note these words concerning Gihon in Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
The only natural spring of water in or near Jerusalem is the "Fountain of the Virgin" (q.v.), which rises outside the city walls on the west bank of the Kidron valley. On the occasion of the approach of the Assyrian army under Sennacherib, Hezekiah, in order to prevent the besiegers from finding water, "stopped the upper water course of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David" (2 Chronicles 32:30; 33:14). This "fountain" or spring is therefore to be regarded as the "upper water course of Gihon." From this "fountain" a tunnel cut through the ridge which forms the south part of the temple hill conveys the water to the Pool of Siloam, which lies on the opposite side of this ridge at the head of the Tyropoeon ("cheesemakers'") valley, or valley of the son of Hinnom, now filled up by rubbish. The length of this tunnel is about 1,750 feet. (Easton Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, 1897 by M.G. Easton, M.A., D.D., ASCII edition, 1988 Ellis Enterprises, Inc. Public Domain.)
21 See also 1 Samuel 3:10-14.
22 See 1 Samuel 4:1-18.
23 1 Samuel 21:1-9.
24 1 Samuel 22:1-19.
25 1 Samuel 22:20-23; 30:7-8.
26 Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Nadab and Abihu died before having any sons because they “offered strange fire” on the altar (Leviticus 10:1-2). This left Eleazar and Ithamar. Eli and his sons were descendants of Ithamar, while Zadok was a descendant of Eleazar. God told Eli that his line of priests would perish and be replaced by another (a descendant of Eleazar). When Saul slaughtered Ahimelech and his household, they were descendants of Ithamar, and the sole survivor was Abiathar. When Abiathar chose to side with Adonijah, Solomon removed him from his priesthood, leaving Zadok as the only high priest. Thus, the priesthood was removed from the line of Ithamar and his descendants just as God had told Eli. See 1 Chronicles 24:1-5.
27 See the hopelessness of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-24; see also 24:1-11.
28 Acts 2:29.
29 John 10:17-18.
30 Lee and his wife Barbara were with us almost from the beginning. Lee was a friend who faithfully served CBC in various capacities, including that of an elder. He went to be with the Lord several years ago.
31 We were all in our thirties at the time.
This sermon was given on May 13, 2007. The transcript will be posted when it becomes available.
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This sermon was given on July 15, 2007. The transcript will be posted when it becomes available.
This sermon was given on July 29, 2007. The transcript will be posted when it becomes available.
This sermon was given on August 12, 2007. The transcript will be posted when it becomes available.