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1. David's Youth: A Training Ground for Godly Leadership

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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.

The Setting of Saul’s Anointing

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.

Phase 1: Saul’s Anointing
1 Samuel 9:1–10:16

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.

Phase 2: Saul Is Selected by Lot
1 Samuel 10:17-27

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.

Phase 3: Saul’s Coronation after Israel’s Victory over the Ammonites
1 Samuel 11:1-15

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.

David’s Designation as Saul’s Replacement
1 Samuel 16

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 versus David

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:

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.

Related Topics: Character Study

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