Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands...  1 Timothy 2:8

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May 2018

The Life of David, Part 3

1 Samuel 17

David versus Saul on Goliath’s Turf

Missing the Bar

During the years that I have studied King Saul, I have had to change my opinion about the man. First, he is a man who faces incredible hurdles. God calls him to perform a monumentally difficult task with only minimum guidance. This would be daunting for anyone. Second, his ultimate failure as king is far from a shutout. God gives him one chance to clear the bar, and he misses the goal by inches. A few mistakes at exactly the wrong moments disqualify him. In strictly human terms, Saul almost succeeds.

More than Humanly Possible

Therefore, when David appears in 1 Samuel 16 as the man who will replace Saul as king in Israel, the bar moves to impossible heights. Where Saul fails, David must thrive. Where Saul succeeds, David must outperform him. The road to success as king of Israel is more difficult than humanly possible, but this is the point of the story. David, who is guided by the Spirit, stands in contrast to Saul at every point. Upon his anointing by Samuel in 1 Samuel 16, the Spirit rushes upon him “from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). He will become a man whose principal guide is God’s Spirit, even during the latter dark period of his life.

David and Goliath in Context

We need to notice the rapid transition that takes place over three chapters:

1 Samuel 15: The LORD rejects Saul as king
1 Samuel 16: Samuel anoints David as the new king of Israel
1 Samuel 17: Saul and David each have their day before Goliath

1 Samuel 17 has more to do with David versus Saul than it does with David versus Goliath. (For example, the chapter contains 58 verses, but the fight goes down between verses 48-51). In this chapter, David is the God-driven hero. God uses the events in 1 Samuel 17 to place David in the public’s eye.

Saul versus David in the Face of Adversity

At this point, we need to understand the king’s job description as it developed during Saul and David’s time. A number of passages in 1 Samuel 8-10 drop hints regarding the king’s marching orders:

The people call for a king who will “judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:20). That is, the king will rule on behalf of all the people and will represent the nation in battle. He will bear ultimate responsibility for the outcome of their battles. When the LORD grants the people’s wish, he acknowledges the legitimacy of this role for his king.

Just before Saul’s anointing, the LORD declares to Samuel that the man “shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come before me” (1 Sam. 9:16). The king stands as God’s chosen representative in the ongoing drama of redemption. He is required to fight on his people’s behalf. He must lead, even when leading is difficult.
The king is called to restrain the LORD’s people (1 Sam. 9:17). This duty harkens back to Judges 17:6 and 21:25. The two verses are identical. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The verses frame the narrative that runs from Judges 17-21. The level of moral decay during the Judges is unmatched in biblical history. A necessary part of the king’s responsibility is to restrain God’s people.

The king is to be a prince over the people (1 Sam. 10:1). That is, he is to conduct himself as a man who represents the high regard that the people place in him. He is required to bring respect to the office.

The king will “reign over the people of the LORD and …save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies” (1 Sam. 10:2; cf. 11:12-13). In earthly terms, the king is to be a savior on behalf of the people.

In 1 Samuel 17, Saul stumbles at every point with regard to his duty to God and his people. The man who stands head and shoulders above the rest of the people (1 Samuel 9:2) refuses to fight the people’s battle. He fails either to lead or restrain his people. And he declines the call to save God’s people from the hand of their enemies.

David as the Man who will be King

Then David enters, and in a reckless show of faith, accomplishes what Israel’s first king has failed to do. His words of defiance, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he would defy the armies of the living, God?” (1 Samuel 17:26), demonstrate faith that Saul does not know. David’s ultimate shock-and-awe maneuver is to take Goliath’s sword and remove his head with it. The move not only verifies Goliath’s death—no one returns from a beheading—but it also shows David’s mastery over the enemy. He has disgraced the Philistines’ champion. David’s victory reverses the course of the battle between Philistia and Israel. David owns the moment because he takes it in faith. The events in this chapter open a door that cannot be shut. David shows that the battle is not about us. It is about faith in action.

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For additional studies click on the links below:

May 2017 - Exodus 6:1-13 - Defeat, Not Failure

June 2017 - John 9:1-7 - True Discipleship

October 2017 - Ephesians 1:9-10 - God and the Work Ethic

October 2017 - Psalm 11 - Righteousness and Evil in the Las Vegas Shooting

November 2017 - Ephesians 6:5-9 - Practicing Value in Undervalued Labor

December 2017 - Psalm 77:19 and Psalm 131- Waiting on the Lord

February 2018 - Nehemiah 8:5-8 - Thinking Man's Warfare

March 2018 - Isaiah 1:18-20 -Authority and Reason

April 2018 - Deuteronomy 17:14-20 -The Life of David, Part 1

May 2018 - 1 Samuel 10-11 -The Life of David, Part 2