A First Glimpse Into David’s Heart

A First Glimpse Into David’s Heart

Last week we noted a sharp contrast between Israel’s first king, Saul, and its second and newly anointed king, David. Whereas Saul could have reigned successfully—by which I mean in accordance with God’s will—he chose instead to disobey the LORD at certain key points in his life. And it was because of this disobedience that the kingship was ripped away from him. It simply wouldn’t do to have a disobedient king rule over the nation that God had uniquely created for himself. Then, upon removing the kingship from Saul, the LORD had Samuel choose the youngest of Jesse’s sons, David, to be king. David was so inconsequential in his father’s eyes—or perhaps merely so young—that initially his father hadn’t even bothered to bring him before Samuel for consideration as Israel’s king. Yet as we know it was this young shepherd whom the LORD chose to be Israel’s second and most important king. As the LORD disclosed to Samuel when the latter assumed that Eliab, Jesse’s eldest son, would surely be the one of God’s choosing, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[1]

Well this morning’s passage is the first glimpse we have into the heart of David whom God did choose. We begin with the story of David and Goliath, no doubt one of the most well-known accounts in all of the Old Testament, and this for good reason:

It appeals to our sense of justice—right triumphs over wrong;

It encourages us to root for the under dog—David wins the battle with nothing more than a sling and five smooth stones taken from a stream;

It satisfies our desire to do away with the bullies of the world—despite having a sword, spear, javelin, and lots of bluster, Goliath gets his due;

It reminds us that with God, even the seemingly impossible is possible—a young shepherd by relying upon God defeats an experienced warrior.

But what I want to focus on this morning is what this historic encounter shows us about David’s heart. Because if David was chosen to be Israel’s shepherd-king not because of his outward appearance but because of his heart, then perhaps we might learn something about how our hearts ought to be oriented as children and followers of God.

In what we’ve seen in the book of 1 Samuel, we’ve already noted some important aspects about the historical context. Most relevant for us this morning is the reminder that the Philistines were the enemies of Israel. There were five cities that were Philistine strongholds—Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron—and between them they caused endless grief and strife to Israel, God’s chosen nation. As we’ve seen as well, these nations had been kept in check during Samuel’s leadership. As we’re told in chapter seven, “Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of LORD was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines.”[2] God was responsive to and worked through Samuel, his godly leader. But this time of peace came to an end when the elders of Israel rejected God’s rule and prematurely asked for a king “such as all the other nations have.”[3] And though the LORD in his mercy didn’t grant their request in giving them a ruthless king “such as all the other nations” had but instead gave them a king from among their own people, as we’ve also noted, because of Saul’s disobedience to and arrogance towards God, this time of peace and protection from the Philistines came to an end as the Philistines once again became a constant threat to the Israelites.

Our chapter opens by portraying a momentous standoff between the Philistines and the Israelites. In the opening verses we read, “Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah…. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” So the line of battle had been drawn, each side facing the other with but a valley to separate them. But instead of having one army fight against the other army, in verse 4 we read how, “A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.” And for those who have forgotten—or as in my case never learned how to convert cubits into feet and inches—Goliath was 9 feet 9 inches tall, although some sources suggest he was a mere 6 feet 6 inches.[4] Either way, he was a big boy! And it was Goliath who decided to determine the terms of this conflict between his Philistine countrymen and Israel. As stated beginning in verse 8:

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

So neither king Saul nor any of his men was up for accepting Goliath’s challenge for he was a fearsome warrior and foe. And in verse 16 we learn that “For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.” This situation of seeming hopelessness is what David, Israel’s already-but-not-yet future king, was confronted with. But unlike his three oldest brothers, Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah who “had followed Saul to the war,”[5] we’re told in verse 15 that “David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.” During one of these times of traveling David’s father, Jesse, sent him with some provisions for his brothers and asked him to bring back some assurance from them.[6] And as David arrived, “Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other.”[7] When David “ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were, [a]s he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.”

And it is at this point that we’re provided with the first contrast between the Israelites, including king Saul, and David, the shepherd-king-to-be. Whereas in verse 24 we read, “Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear,” verse 26 provides a far different response from David: “David asked the men standing near him, ‘What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’” What we see David doing here reflects a common outlook in the ancient world. In a time when nations worshipped different gods, David is making this battle not about whose army is stronger but about whose God stronger. And David had no doubt as to whose God that was. Even so, we need to keep in mind that David is but a youth, the youngest of his father Jesse’s sons, and his age was working against him here. All of Jesse’s other sons had been rejected by God as possible candidates to be king of Israel. As we saw last week even the eldest of these, Eliab, against whom Samuel had thought might be the one of God’s choosing, was rejected.[8] So it perhaps shouldn’t surprise us to learn, as stated in verse 28, that Eliab was none too fond of David: “When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’” Now we don’t know whether Eliab’s animosity towards his youngest sibling was due to his having been rejected as king by God or whether there was long-standing friction between them. But clearly Eliab was incorrect about David. Whereas he declared David to have a wicked heart, the LORD knew what was truly in David’s heart. And as David stood his ground and expressed confidence in being able to defeat Goliath, Saul heard about it and sent for him.[9] And this brings us to the start of our passage.

Now in all likelihood Saul was unaware at this point that David was the one who was chosen to replace him and that he had been anointed as king by Samuel. And despite David’s youth, he demonstrated equal boldness and confidence before king Saul, leader of the army of Israel, as he had before his brother, Eliab, and the other soldiers. As stated in verse 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” Again, whereas the heart of all of Israel’s warriors, including king Saul, had melted in fear before the taunts of Goliath, David, the young shepherd was eager to fight him in battle. Saul’s response to David is what we should expect. He tried to discourage and dissuade him. He reminded the non-warrior David that, given his youth and inexperience, perhaps he was unable to realize that he was outmatched. In Saul’s own words recorded in verse 33, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” Had I been Saul, I might also have mentioned the obvious fact that “this Philistine” was a monster of a man. What was David thinking?! Yet David responded to Saul by providing him with his warrior credentials. What he went on to describe is in stark contrast with what many of us unfamiliar with rural life think about when we consider the placid, gentle life of a shepherd, staff in hand, benignly relaxing while looking out over a field of sheep, perhaps even enjoying the sun and nature’s beauty. Yet what David related about shepherd life is anything but tranquil. As stated beginning with verse 34, David told Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.” Now if we were to stop right here, we might conclude that what the LORD saw in David’s heart was courage and strength and devotion for despite his youth, David was a devoted shepherd. If you were a sheep, you would certainly want someone like him as your shepherd! And though our children’s Bible picture-books tend to portray David as a scrawny boy, he was anything but. He confronted lions and bears alike even when they took off with one of his father’s sheep. He chased them down, struck them, and rescued the sheep in his charge. And when a lion or bear turned on him, he fought it, even grabbing it by its fur until he had struck it down and killed it. Again, by these actions we see that David was not only brave but also devoted and strong. Taking on a lion or bear would be terrifying yet David did so.

But though all these conclusions about David may be true, verses 36 and 37 provide us some important insight not into his natural abilities but into his heart. For as he told Saul, “36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” These verses are important because they indicate that though David by nature may indeed have been courageous and strong, he primarily viewed his task as shepherd through the eyes of providence. David understood his life as being in God’s hands and so he credited not his own ability but the LORD for delivering him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear. So in David’s mind if God had delivered him from these vicious animals, surely he could deliver him from this Philistine threat to his beloved nation; since by the LORD’s provision he had killed both lions and bears, why should he fear “this uncircumcised Philistine”? David was confident that, with the LORD’s help, he could kill Goliath even as he had killed ferocious animals—with the LORD’s help.

And notice another part of David’s heart—his jealousy for God. He wanted to kill Goliath because he had “defied the armies of the living God.”[10] So, again, because David knew that it was the LORD who had rescued him “from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear,” he had confidence that this very God would rescue him “from the hand of this Philistine.” David knew that it was God who had enabled him to shepherd, care for, and protect his father’s flock. Therefore how much more would God enable him to stand up to one who was defying his Maker’s name? He was jealous for God’s reputation. Well, upon hearing everything David had to say, Saul conceded in stating, “Go, and the Lord be with you”—which David already knew to be the case for he had experienced God’s being with him many times in his life as a shepherd.

Now instead of the usual weapons of war—Saul had offered David his own tunic plus a coat of armor, a bronze helmet, and sword[11]—David who, again, at this time was a shepherd, not a warrior, went with the weapons with which he was most familiar, verse 40: “…he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.” Now one important comment about the sling David used. What comes to our minds when we think of a sling is a slingshot—that is, a “y”–shaped stick with an elastic strap in between the “y” that has a place to put a small stone. In other words, we think of an implement capable of killing a bird but surely not a person. And in all likelihood this is not what David brought to battle. A former colleague of mine[12] told me that David’s sling was probably more akin to the hammer throw that muscle-bound athletes spin around in the Olympics. In other words, if you were to get hit by such a flying projectile, it could easily kill you. In fact in the twentieth chapter of the book of Judges, we see that slings were used by Israelites to fight. In describing some soldiers who had gathered to fight, we’re told that “Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.”[13] So the fact that David chose a sling as a weapon of war wasn’t a novel idea. Slings were already in use in Israel as deadly weapons used in fighting.

Now the drama builds starting in verse 41 with “…the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, [who] kept coming closer to David.” Goliath “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him.” And so he sought to dismiss David in saying, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?”—the “sticks” possibly referring to David’s staff. Then, after cursing David by his gods[14] for Goliath, too, understood this as being a battle between whose God—and therefore whose nation—was greater, he said,  “Come here and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” But yet again David wasn’t disheartened by Goliath’s threats and taunts but once more expressed confidence in the God who had protected him from the lion and the bear. Starting in verse 45, we see how David said to Goliath,

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.

In David we have a return to the way things had been under Samuel’s leadership. Again, because Samuel had relied upon God in leading his people, Israel experienced peace during the time he led them. This was in sharp contrast to Saul who relied upon his own strength, disobeyed God, and thereby caused Israel to again experience constant battles against the Philistines—including now in Goliath from Gath. But David had come against this uncircumcised Philistine—circumcision being the sign of God’s covenant people—“in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” If you’ve ever wondered what the phrase, “the LORD of hosts” means, it’s simply another way of saying the God of the armies as we see here. David was fighting Goliath not for his own sake but that “the whole world [would] know that there [was] a God in Israel.” More specifically David desired that “[a]ll those gathered here [would] know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he [would] give all of [them] into [Israel’s] hands.”

Well, we knew the outcome of this well-known account before it even began. Starting in verse 48 we see that “48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.” Therefore we see how, verse 50, “So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.”

Well, given that the days in which nations identified themselves by the God they followed are long behind us, what might we glean from considering this first glimpse into David’s heart? Let me suggest a few:

First, as was the case with Samuel, in David’s life we’re reminded that simply because we know and follow God, this doesn’t mean that we will have easy lives. There isn’t a single follower of God in all of Scripture—not Samuel, not David, not anyone—who had an easy life as a result of loving and following the LORD. And, I should add, neither do those who don’t know God have easy lives. But the difference that knowing, loving, and following God makes for living in a fallen world is that we’re able to see life through his eyes and know his love in return for God is ever and always on the side of those who belong to him. God is like the shepherd David who fought against even the lions and bears who sought to take and destroy his father’s sheep. As Satan is described as an enemy that “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,”[15] God calls us to “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”[16] And as Jesus, our Good Shepherd, further reminds us, “27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”[17] Our Triune, gracious, and merciful Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will never let any of us, his sheep, go.

A second and related insight we can receive from glimpsing into David’s heart is the importance of believing the truth of Scripture above other competing non-truths that we may be confronted with. God has left us his Word that we might know and follow him and we’d be foolish to neglect that Word. So if we want to know what God is like, we need to look to his Word; if we want to know how he would like us to live, we need to look to his Word. For that Word is given to us for our good. So if we are considering doing something that is expressly forbidden by God, we should always remember that he who made us knows how we will function best in this life, and so let us believe in the Word he has left and, by the help of his Spirit and the family he has given us in one other, seek to live that best life.

A third lesson we can learn from David’s heart is that we, too, are called to trust in God’s providence, in his care and rule over this world. Events in the news can cause us to wonder if this is the case; suffering in our own lives and the lives of those we love can cause us to wonder if this is true. Yet Scripture teaches that the LORD is LORD over the entire cosmos. Were it not for him, the sun wouldn’t rise; were it not for him, the rains wouldn’t fall; were it not for him, we would cease to exist for he is LORD and giver and sustainer of all life. So when we are tempted to believe that given our suffering, God can’t possibly exist or, if he exists, he can’t possibly care, we need to recognize that thought as a lie from the pit of hell. For Scripture teaches that there is nowhere we can go to escape his presence;[18] Scripture teaches that if he cares for the flowers in the field,[19] and the sparrow that falls,[20] and knows the numbers of hairs on our head,[21] we’ve no reason to fear or have anxiety because he cares for us, whom he made in his image, even more.

A final lesson we can glean from glimpsing into David’s heart is that the LORD calls us to share the truth of who he is with those around us. We’re called to do this in word, by what we say, and in deed, by what we do. Each week we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” and we are indeed called to reflect God’s kingdom truths in how we live. Christ Jesus calls us to live as he did—teaching God’s truth, proclaiming his Word, living out his justice, showing kindness and compassion to all who come across our path. For though we will never be king as David was, we are all children of King Jesus, called to live according to his will and ways, by his Holy Spirit who indwells us, to the glory of our gracious and loving heavenly Father.

Let us pray.

[1] 1 Samuel 16:7.

[2] 1 Samuel 7:13b–14.

[3] 1 Samuel 8:5b.

[4] The Zondervan NIV study Bible notes: “The Septuagint,…Dead Sea Scrolls, and Josephus (Antiquities 6.9.1) all have four cubits instead of six, making Goliath six and a half feet tall, still a remarkable height by ancient standards.”

[5] 1 Samuel 17:13.

[6] 1 Samuel 17:17–18.

[7] 1 Samuel 17:21.

[8] 1 Samuel 16:6–7:When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

[9] 1 Samuel 17:29–31: 29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

[10] 1 Samuel 17:36.

[11] 1 Samuel 17:38–39.

[12] John Walton. The analogy of the hammer is my own.

[13] Judges 20:16.

[14] Crossway ESV study Bible notes that Goliath’s gods were probably Dagon and Ashtaroth. See 1 Samuel 5:1–2:1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.” and 1 Samuel 31:10: “[The Philistines] put [Saul’s] armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan.”, respectively.

[15] 1 Peter 5:8.

[16] 1 Peter 5:9.

[17] John 10:27–30.

[18] E.g., see Psalm 139:7–10:Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn,  if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

[19] Matthew 6:28–30: 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

[20] Matthew 10:29: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.

[21] Matthew 10:30–31: 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

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