What David Knew
In the middle of 1 Samuel, we’re given a front row seat to the dramatic decline of Israel’s first king, as well as the unexpected, whimsical rise of Israel’s second king. The story of Israel thus far is lengthy, packed with rebellion, and saturated in YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. At this point in the narrative, Israel is living in the Promise Land with a new enemy: the Philistines. As Israel continues to take shape as a nation, they beg God to give them a king, a political and military guru, who would rule over them and defeat enemies like the Philistines. Long story short, God gives them Saul, a self-deceiving, unfaithful, flight risk of a man who leans only on luck, willpower, and self-interest. All was well until Saul and Israel were truly tested. Cue Goliath, a, literally, giant Philistine with a cruel agenda. For forty days, the giant Goliath strutted up and down the battle field, taunting, challenging, and threatening Israel. Day after day, Goliath returned with a violent plan to overthrow and undermine the nation of God.
When Saul and all Israel heard the words of the giant, they were dismayed and greatly afraid...they fled from him and were much afraid"
By now, we know Israel well enough to know that they are skittish, untrusting, and forgetful. So far, they have learned almost everything the hard way, always taking the long route to God's promises. Israel had a predictable response to Goliath’s threats: they swore, feared and retreated. In the face of danger, the nation, along with their fickle leader, started stumbling, consumed by the problems in front of them.
One person had a different response.
“What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
When David, the shepherd, musician, youngest brother, and soon-to-be-king arrived, he found a trembling congregation, an intimidated king, and a boasting adversary. But David, though he stood in the very same camp as Israel and suffered under the exact same circumstance, was not disheartened. David didn’t see a hopeless situation, he was too busy recounting the many times YHWH had delivered Israel from the hand of a mighty enemy. What is David’s secret? What did he know that set him so far a part in his response?
David had spent his life thus far being attentive to something that Israel missed: God’s good track record. Not only was David able to cling to the God who delivered his ancestors from slavery and torment, but he also clung to his personal history with the God who delivered him from bears and lions. David knew Yahweh as a faithful deliverer, One who could overcome even the darkest of odds. So, armed with nothing but a slingshot and daring grit, David went out to meet Israel’s enemy on the line of combat.
“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.”
For those of us facing battles of our own, this is the perfect field guide. Saul’s fear got the best of him; he quit before he even started. Likewise, David’s brother, Eliab, responded with anger. Eliab committed to hopelessness, was enraged, so when David wanted to fight, Eliab discouraged him greatly. From Eliab’s point of view, anyone with hope was acting in utter foolishness. Our last option and best bet is to respond like David who made the decision to think on God instead of on his own circumstances. Surely David was tempted with the same fear, doubt, and anger that the Israelites experienced that day, but David made a decision, in the face of terrible odds, to look at God’s track record, to use his God-given imagination and propensity for hope, to make the risky bet on YHWH.
Your history with God is one of your most effective weapons. How has God come through in your life? Cling to that. Think of a time when the odds were drastically against you yet you were delivered into the arms of grace and mercy. Tell that story over and over again. What David knew was that YHWH’s goodness, commitment, and love for His people was greater than evil could ever be. No battle overturned, no enemy, no force of fear or even death, could keep God from moving forward in His narrative of redemption and renewal. That’s what David knew, and it’s what we, with arms linked on the battle field, are learning together.