David and Goliath: this story must be one of the most exciting in the whole Bible. Many people who know almost nothing about Christianity can still tell you about the encounter between the young Israelite and the fearsome Philistine.
All the ingredients of high drama are there. A young man emerges from nowhere, strides into the midst of an army which is apparently paralysed with fear, and with a seemingly foolish boldness declares his contempt for the enemy. Then, all alone and armed with the most primitive of weapons, he defeats the battle-hardened champion of the opposing forces, hands victory on a plate to his own side, and transforms their abject defeat into glorious triumph.
David grew up at a time when Israel was languishing spiritually. At one time Saul had been empowered by the Spirit and had led Israel into a resounding victory over the Ammonites. Now, however, through disobedience and unbelief, he had forfeited his right to lead God’s chosen nation. Although he retained his position as king, God no longer recognised him as such.
The army, as well, was bereft of God’s mighty presence. Shouting war cries and parading in full battle array was easy, but defeating Goliath presented a real problem. The soldiers squirmed in humiliation whenever he came into view.
This Philistine must have been a terrifying sight. Imagine ten feet of muscle and arrogant might, armed to the teeth with a spear the size of a weaver’s beam and a sword that would be famous for years to come. No wonder the onlookers turned to jelly. No wonder no one responded when he roared out his challenge: ‘Choose a man for yourselves and let us fight together!’ Whoever won in this single combat would gain the victory for the entire army: a great idea from the Philistine’s point of view, but Israel’s captains were not too thrilled with it, to say the least.
After the challenge had been issued, was there suddenly a long line at sick bay each morning? Were the usually robust soldiers unaccountably afflicted with bad backs and stomach aches? As Goliath roared and taunted every day for forty days, there were probably many debates about what to do and whom to send; but none of Saul’s captains were rushing to volunteer.
The number forty is often associated with times of trial in the bible. The Israelites were tested for forty years in the wilderness. Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations after forty days in the desert. And here, after Goliath had repeated his challenge for forty days, the army still had no answer.
God made His choice
Daily, Goliath ridiculed his enemies as he cried, ‘Choose a man for yourselves.’ Unknown to the Israelites, though, God had already chosen the man. Seeing the low state of his people, he had been preparing a remedy.
God had previously said to the prophet Samuel, ‘Go to Bethlehem, for I have chosen a man.’ When we are choosing people for ourselves, we must make sure that they are people whom God has already chosen for himself. God is in the business of choosing people for himself, and he wants us to see how he does it. What, then, led up to his choice of David?
Samuel, the prophet, was grief-stricken over Saul’s failure to be the God-honouring king required to rule Israel. Now, though, a new word came to him: ‘Stop grieving for Saul. Fill your horn with oil, for I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem: I have chosen one of his sons to be king.’ Samuel obediently journeyed to one of the strangest nomination proceedings ever.
Eliab looks good
As Jesse’s sons stood before him, Samuel could not fail to be impressed by the eldest son, Eliab. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘the Lord’s anointed is before me.’ But, much to Samuel’s surprise, God rejected him.
Samuel had previously anointed Saul, who had been a fine, strong, handsome young man, literally standing head and shoulders above everyone else. If this was God’s previous choice, Samuel now expected to anoint a man of similar stature. He had not learned that God’s choice has nothing to do with a person’s stature. ‘Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.’
Jesse called his second son, Abinadab, but God vetoed him too – as well as the third, Shammah, and the other four in turn. Perplexed, Samuel asked, ‘Are these all your children?’ Jesse replied, ‘Actually, I do have one more son, but he’s only a youngster and he’s looking after the sheep.’ On Samuel’s command, Jesse sent for David. Eventually, the young man who would change the history of Israel came before the old prophet with a freshness and inner beauty that could not be hidden. The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Arise, anoint him. He is the one.’ As Goliath was publicly shouting ‘Choose a man,’ God had secretly made His choice.
(David) ‘never forgets that he has been raised to eminence by God (2 Sam. 23:1). Never forgetting his roots, knowing where he’d come from, he never ceases to marvel at having come so far and having attained so high a place… He knows himself to be a man ‘exalted by God’ who owes his rise to fame and leadership only to the Lord.’
Leadership by Philip Greenslade, p58