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THAT is a very simple account for a man to give of himself, yet it answered the question which elicited it. Though but a stripling, David knew where to stop in his answers. On this occasion he could have startled Saul as Saul was never startled in his life, yet he held his peace! Truly, there is power in moderation; and truly, discretion is the supreme beauty of the valiant man. Notice with special care the exciting circumstances under which the answer was given. David stood before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand! Call up the scene! Look at the sinewy hand grasping the bleeding head of the boastful barbarian! See the flush upon the cheek of the young conqueror, then listen to the quiet answer! To be so self-controlled under such circumstances! Standing before the king, grasping the head of a man who made Israel quake, a nation looking at him, yet he speaks as if a stranger had accosted him in some peaceful retreat of the pasturage!
Now look at Saul. His position is very touching. Occasionally insane, he is today sober-minded and tranquil. Little does he know to whom he is speaking! David might have said, "Samuel came to my father's house in search of a king. He passed by my brethren one by one; I was sent for at length from the sheepfold, and Samuel anointed me king of Israel. Behold in this bleeding head the first sign and pledge of my kingly power!" Instead of speaking so, he merely said, with a child's beautiful simplicity, "I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite."
Learn that men may be anointed long before their power is officially and publicly declared. God may have put his secret into their heart long before he puts the diadem upon their brow. We do not know to whom we are speaking. The child who looks so simple, almost insignificant, may become the man who shall render his age the greatest service, or bring upon it the most appalling ruin. You speak to the little one some gentle word, or bid him Godspeed, not knowing that in after-years he may repronounce to a hushed world the convictions fur which you could get no hearing, or may honour your memory by a successful vindication of its claim upon grateful regard.
Learn that God's arrangements are not extemporaneous. The men who shall succeed to all good offices are known to him from the beginning to the end. Often in our impatience we concern ourselves to know what will be done in the event of this man dying, or that the king, the preacher, the prime minister, the commanding soldier. To us the prospect may be dark, but to God the whole course is clear; the successor is anointed, but not yet declared.
In studying the period of David's history which is comprised between his anointing and the killing of Goliath, we shall discover some qualities in David which we may well imitate.
Soon after his anointing, David became harp-player to the king. This seems to be a descent. Are there not many apparent anticlimaxes in life? Is this a conspicuous example of them? "Play the harp! Why, I am king," David might have said. "Why should I waste my time in attempting to prolong the life of the man who is upon my throne? The sooner he dies, the sooner I shall reign; not one soothing note will I evoke from my harp!" Had David spoken so, he would have dropped from the high elevation which becomes the spirit of a king. There are two ways of looking at this harp-playing. David saw it in its right aspect, and therefore to him it lost all its apparent humiliation. To a mere outsider it was harp-playing; to David it was an attempt to help a man by driving away an evil spirit. In playing the harp David was doing a great spiritual work. He was not trying to please the merely musical ear; he was not the paid servant of taste; he was a spiritual minister, and as such he was as the angel of God to the tormented man. It would help us in our work if we looked at its spiritual rather than at its merely outward aspect. The influence of a spiritual worker never ceases. David's harp is being played still, and its strains are expelling many an evil spirit. Had his work been merely so much manipulation upon a musical instrument, his work would have perished with his physical existence; but David played with his soul as well as with his fingers; hence his strains linger in the air, and find their way into our hearts when weary with much sadness or beclouded by unusual fear. Let us remember that how high soever be the office to which we are anointed, there is no anticlimax in our attempts to redeem men from the power of evil spirits, or in any way, possible to us, to bring men out of the horror of great darkness into the sweet light of hope. Are we skilled in music? Let us help those who are sad. Have we this world's goods? Let us seek out the poor, that they may bless us as the messengers of God. Have we power to say beautiful words? Let us speak to men who are weary of the common tumult which is around them. To help a man is the honour of true kingliness.
After this engagement as harp-player, David went home to pursue his usual avocations. How well he carried the burden of his prospects! We see no sign of impatience. He did not behave himself as a child who, having seen a toy, cries until it is put into his hands. David had the dignity of patience. He carried the Lord's secret in a quiet heart. Was it not a trial to him to go back to the sheepfold? Had it been so, he would have wrested the word of the Lord to his own destruction. He would then have worked from the point of his own desires rather than from the point of the divine will. In little things as well as in great, men show their temper and quality. One sign of impatience at this point would have shown that David's pride had overcome his moral strength. Who would rule, must learn to obey. Who would be master, must learn first and well the duties of a good servant. Are we conscious of superior powers? Let us show their superiority by the calmness of our patience, and by the repression of every wish that is marred by one element of selfishness.
When David came to see his fighting brethren, by the express instructions of his father Jesse, he disclosed a feature in his character in true keeping with what we have seen. When he had become acquainted with the case, he at once looked at outward circumstances in their moral bearing. Other men, including Saul himself, were talking about mere appearances. They did not see the case as it really was. Their talk, in fact, was strongly atheistic. They whispered to one another, in hot and panting breath, "Why, that staff of his is like a weaver's beam; look at his spear's head, it must weigh at least six hundred shekels of iron: I am told that the weight of his coat is five thousand shekels of brass; as for his height, it must be a span more than six cubits!" This was the talk that was proceeding when David ran into the army to salute his brethren. Is it not barbaric talk after all? It is external, mechanical, superficial. Now for another tone! David called Goliath, not a giant, not a soldier, but an uncircumciscd Philistine, who had defied the armies of the living God! This is a moral tone. This is precisely the tone that was wanted in the talk of degenerate Israel! As used by David, the very word uncircumcised involved a moral challenge. In effect, David said: "I do not look upon his height; I ask no questions respecting the strength of his muscles, the length of his staff, the circumference of his chest, the swing of his arm; he is an uncircumcised Philistine, and has defied the armies of the living God; it is none other than God himself whom the barbarian has defied; therefore shall judgment fall upon him swiftly, and the hand of the Lord shall tear him in pieces." This tone retrieves the honour of any controversy. It brings strength with it, and hope, and dignity. Israel had fallen away from the right elevation; the contention had become one of muscle against muscle, of number against number. David said, It is a contention between light and darkness, between right and wrong, between God and the devil; to your knees, O Israel, and call upon the name of the living God!
Oh for one David in every controversy! Men lose themselves in petty details, they fight about straws, they see only the surface; David saw the spiritual bearing of all things, and redeemed a controversy from vulgarity and atheism by distinctly and lovingly pronouncing the name of God. The atheist counts the guns, the saint looks up to God; the atheist is terrified by the size of the staff, the saint is inspired by his faith in right and purity. Such a man cannot fail. If he could fail, life would be a continual mockery, and hope would be only a variety of despair. Sooner or later what is right must slay what is wrong. If we lose faith in that doctrine, we lose everything in life worth having; creation itself is unsafe:
David interpreted the past so as to qualify himself for the future. When Saul doubted his ability to cope with the Philistine, David recounted some of his recollections as a shepherd: "Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the boar, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine" ( 1Sa 17:34-37 ). The past should be our prophet. David confided in the unchangeableness of God. Forms of danger vary; but the delivering power remains the same. Sometimes danger comes as a lion, sometimes as a bear, sometimes as a Philistine, sometimes as a devil. David did not ask what the special form was, he knew that God never changed, and that his power was the same in all cases. We know this right well; our path is strewn with lions and bears slain in the name of the Lord, yet we are as afraid of the next lion or the next Philistine as if God had never enabled us to smite an enemy!" Lord, increase our faith." When our theology is right, our power over circumstances will be complete, and our theology is right when the heart's whole trust is in the living Father, and our love goes out towards him through his one Son, Jesus Christ the Saviour. When our hold upon the true idea of God is lost, our life is disorganised and weakened; when our hold of that idea is firm, we "plant our footsteps in the sea, and ride upon the storm." The great fight of life is a contention between the material and the spiritual. Goliath represents the material; he is towering in stature, vast in strength, terrible in aspect. David represents the spiritual: he is simple, trustful, reverent; the merely fleshly side of his power is reduced, to the lowest possible point, he fights under the inspiration of great memories, in a deeply religious spirit, not for personal glory but for the glory of the living God.
David went to his work in the name and fear of God. "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts." In that one word David disclosed the secret of his power. His mere personality ceased, and he became the minister of God. As a contest between strength and strength, the scene was simply ridiculous. Viewed materially, the Philistine was perfectly right when he disdained David, and scornfully laughed at the weapons which the stripling produced. Goliath showed a most justifiable contempt; as a materialist, he could indeed have adopted no other tone. David made no boast of his weapons. He pronounced the name of God, and put his life in the keeping of the Most High. It is as if David had said, "My fall will be the fall of God; it is not a fight between thee and me, O strong man; it is a fight between earth and heaven; the victory will not be given to the weapon, but to the hand that wields it; God shall hurl this stone at thee, thou uncircumcised boaster, and before it thou shalt be as a helpless beast."
In the expression, "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts," we have a watchword which may be used by true men in all crises. Let us use it in temptation, in times of unjust opposition, in solemn trials of strength and patience; yes, and use it when Death itself challenges us to the combat! That grim monster will one day invite us to contest. He will call us out, that in the open field we may try our strength together. If we go in our own name, we shall be worsted in the fray; to Death itself let us say, "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts," and death shall be swallowed up in victory.
The application of the truths of this lesson is easy as a matter of inference, but hard as a matter of realisation. Some men save, others are saved. Such is the law of sovereignty. This law of sovereignty penetrates the whole scheme and fabric of life. David saved, Israel was saved; activity and passivity make up the sphere of this life. Without any attempt at fanciful spiritualising, we see in David the type of the one Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ, who bruised the serpent's head, and won for us the one victory through which we may have eternal life. "Crown Him Lord of all."
Almighty God, who can bear the scourging of the rod that is in thine hand? Thou dost not willingly grieve or afflict the children of men. Thy purpose is directed by eternal love, though thy stroke be sometimes heavier than we can bear. Thou rememberest that we are dust. Our breath is in our nostrils; we hasten away like a cloud in the morning; our days arc few before thee. Be merciful unto us, through Jesus Christ, our infinitely sufficient and precious Saviour, and grant that the end of all discipline may be our likeness to the beauty of his holiness. Chasten us, that we may be good, but slay us not with the sword. When we arc in the furnace, be thyself our Refiner. When earthly things are plucked out of our hands, may it be that our hearts may be enriched with heavenly treasure. Lord, hear us. Son of God, come to us. Holy Spirit, dwell in us. May the holy word be to us a word of gracious explanation, lest we faint under the mysteries of thy providence. Whilst we pray, our hearts are waiting and watching at the cross. Amen.
"Is there not a cause?" 1 Samuel 17:29 .
Yet the man himself may not be able to explain it. We have seen again and again that it is possible even for rational men to be unable to give reasons for certain parts of their conduct. There is an inworking mystery, a subtle mysterious action of mind upon mind, spirit upon spirit, leading to results which cannot be accounted for by logical processes. On the other hand, we must guard ourselves against the mastery of mere impulse, never supposing that because we feel impelled in a certain direction therefore the direction is right. We should not forget the art and the duty of self-analysis, and if ever we find that obedience to an impulse results to our material advantage, then we are entitled to suspect the inspiration of that impulse. When an impulse carries a man away to become a missionary, a hero, a subject of personal sacrifice; when it inflicts upon him great inconvenience, disadvantage, and even loss; when it drags him forth to a place called Golgotha; we may begin to feel that he is in reality following an impulse other than human. We are not to walk in the line of our inclination, which is always a treacherous course, but to walk in that line which involves great self-denial, and an increasing sense of the necessity of absolute dependence upon the living God.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany