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David the Great: Deconstructing the Man After God's Own Heart
by Mark Rutland
Learn More | Meet Mark Rutland
A STRANGE BOY TO
SAY THE LEAST
Based on 1 Samuel 16
When David first appeared in the story that was to become his, he was a shepherd boy. His life was far from those of the romanticized shepherds of modern stories. In David’s day, the shepherd in the family was the runt, the youngest, and often the most despised by his elders, who was made a shepherd because he was not capable of much else.
David had seven older brothers, grown men who were strong warriors. They endured their younger brother—barely. Jesse’s seven older sons thought David was strange, to say the least, and a bragging little liar, to say the worst.
From his earliest days, David’s life had a touch of the miraculous. Consider the fact that David was a master musician at a prodigious age. Prodigies are often hated by their less-talented elders. Then there were his accounts of supernatural victories in the wilderness. Imagine an evening meal in David’s family home: He has returned with his sheep, cleaned up, and joined his older, larger brothers at the kitchen table. Challenged by their mother to be nicer to David, they fire off questions between bites.
“What did you do today, little brother?” one asks before immediately turning to his mother to make sure she noticed his “effort.”
Guileless as the child he is, David answers without hesitation. “Today I killed a lion.”
Imagine the ridicule, the mockery he must have endured. Perhaps Eliab, the eldest, led the verbal assault. “Killed a lion, did you? Wow! That must have been dangerous business. It’s a miracle you weren’t killed.”
“Yes,” agrees the naïve child. “It was a miracle. A great miracle.”
“How did you kill the ferocious beast?”
David, oblivious to the sarcasm, answers, “I punched him.”
Imagine the laughter. Gales of laughter.
David begins to realize he is being mocked, but he presses on. “Yes, he ran at the sheep, and I hit him with my fist.”
“And he died? Just like that? Wow!”
By now, everyone is up to speed on the conversation. The brothers are laughing together, and Jesse and his wife are smiling awkwardly and shaking their heads.
“Yes, he died. Just like the bear.”
“Oh, a bear too. A lion and a bear. What a warrior. What a mighty slayer of beasts is this sweet singer of songs.”
After what feels like an eternity to David, his father, Jesse, raises his hand, and the laughter ceases. “OK, David. Are you saying you killed a lion?”
“And a bear,” Abinadab adds. “Don’t forget the bear, Father.”
“And a bear?” Jesse asks. “A lion and a bear?”
“Yes,” David responds quietly.
Jesse looks into the innocent eyes of his youngest and says, “The next time you kill a lion or a bear, why don’t you cut off its head? Bring that head home and show it to your brothers. To all of us. No one calls anyone in this family a liar, and we’re not calling you a liar, son, but next time, bring the head.”
The Prophet Arrives
One day, the prophet Samuel arrived in town. This was a big deal, especially in a village like Bethlehem. No paparazzi follow him, but Samuel was the most famous religious leader of his day. Samuel walking into Bethlehem would be something like a rock star today suddenly appearing in a small town or Billy Graham showing up at a country church.
Since anointing Saul as the first king of Israel, Samuel had nearly retired and taken a back seat in the kingdom. His return to the scene, his arrival in Bethlehem, was something of a scary moment. There was serious apprehension. What did this mean? The Scriptures even say that the elders of the town were afraid upon seeing Samuel, and they hadn’t even learned the reason he was there (1 Sam. 16:4). They would have been shocked to learn that the reason for Samuel’s appearance was treason—anointing a new king when a perfectly healthy king sat on the throne.
Samuel doesn’t waste any time upon entering Bethlehem. Samuel was hardly a folksy chap on his sunniest day. He is there on serious business. He tells the elders of the town, “Gather at Jesse’s house for a sacrifice to the Lord.”
“Jesse’s house? What for?” Some of them might have been wondering if he had come to rebuke Jesse’s youngest for blasphemy. Had the boy’s bizarre stories of miracles offended the great prophet?
“I’m going there to anoint a new king,” Samuel answers. The elders are shocked—probably horrified.
“Look, uh . . . listen, we don’t want to argue with a prophet. Please don’t strike us dead or anything, OK? We’re with you, alright? But, well, we do have just one tiny, maybe important, maybe not, question: What about Saul?”
Without hesitation, Samuel responds bluntly, “What about him? I have nothing to do with Saul anymore. The next king is in Jesse’s house.”
That said, everyone gathers at Jesse’s house. The torches are lit, the elders are assembled, there’s a fearful mysteriousness in the room. Samuel goes straight to Jesse’s oldest, strongest son, Eliab. He is a perfect specimen of a man. “He looks kingly,” Samuel thinks to himself. “He’s not Saul exactly, but he’s impressive enough.” Samuel holds out the oil, ready to anoint Eliab, when he feels a spiritual check.
“This isn’t the one.”
He looks to the next biggest one, Abinadab. Again, “This isn’t the one.” The same story with Shimea and all the other brothers present. “This isn’t the one . . . This isn’t the one . . . This isn’t the one . . . ”
After going through all seven brothers, Samuel’s next words to Jesse prompt one of the funniest exchanges in the Bible: “Are you sure these are all your sons?”
“Am I sure these are all my sons?” Jesse asks in disgust. “What are you accusing me of? What’s wrong with my boys here? What do you mean, are these all my sons?”
“Well, are they?”
“Are they? I count seven sons. Is this right, Jesse?”
Jesse becomes quiet and looks away before answering. “There, well, there is another . . . out in the fields somewhere. The youngest. He is . . . well . . . What can I say?”
Samuel responds, “Let’s see what God sees in him. Go find him now. We will not sit down or eat one bite until he is here.”
When David eventually arrives and sees everyone staring at him, he must have been thinking to himself, “What did I do now?” Quietly he asks them, “Do you want to hear a song?”
He has absolutely no idea what’s happening, but as the youngest he’s used to being left out of the loop. Samuel walks over to this skinny child, smelling like sheep, with knees like a camel, a sunburned nose, tousled hair, and a banjo slung over his shoulder.
Perhaps Samuel himself argued with God. “Oh, Lord, no. Not this one, surely not this one.”
Samuel listens for the only opinion that matters. The words come. “This is the one.” Immediately, Samuel tilts the horn, pours oil on David, and anoints him as the next king of Israel.
His brothers’ reactions must have been priceless. Surely not aloud, not so Samuel could hear it, but they must have chafed. All their anger and envy must have made that mysterious evening a bitter pill to swallow.
Then there were Bethlehem’s village elders. They must have been afraid. They were present at this treasonous ceremony. If Saul found out about this, they knew he would kill them all and perhaps burn Bethlehem to the ground.
David has no more idea than the others of what has happened to him. Nobody explained anything to him. He just came in out of the field, and an old man poured oil on his head. He looked to his dad with an uncertain look on his face.
“You only have yourself to blame, son,” Jesse says to him. “If you want to kill lions and bears with your bare hands, this is what happens.”
- LESSON FROM OLD DR. MARK
There will be moments in your life when God does something that resonates deeply with you. They ping on your sonar screen, and you just know that something big is going to happen. Then years go by, and nothing happens. The lost years don’t erase God’s mark on you though. The announcement was still made. The time has simply not yet come.
The Next Step: Wait
Perhaps even stranger than this scene with an old man pouring oil over a boy is that when it’s over . . . it’s just over. Samuel goes back to his lonely prophet’s retreat, and David returns to his sheep. Everything goes back to normal. Or so it seems.
Yet nothing is ever normal again. God has made His mark on David, and David’s story was just beginning. However, it’s important to remember that David’s story was not the only story being written. Saul’s story was not yet finished. Just because David was anointed didn’t mean it was time for him to take the next step. Rather, it was time for the next step, but that next step was simply to wait.
God withdrew His anointing from Saul, who, in turn, fell into a demonic nightmare world. He was filled with rage and was guilt-ridden. The Bible puts it like this, a puzzling verse for many: “An evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” (1 Sam. 16:14, KJV).
Saul’s troubled soul and his tortured mind were of his own making. God simply let Saul live with the torments he carved out for himself.
Soon, Saul was having horrible nightmares and not sleeping well at all. A kind-hearted minion in his camp says to the king, “Hey, I heard about a kid over in Bethlehem who can play and sing better than anyone in Israel. Why don’t I go get this kid, and we’ll see if he can sing you to sleep?”
Saul is willing to try anything at this point, so he summons David to his camp. Now what could David have been thinking at this point? Not too long before, the most famous spiritual leader in Israel poured oil over his head and said that David was God’s choice to be the next king. Now the current king is sending for him? Did Saul know?
What’s going to happen to David?
When young David arrives in the king’s tent, Saul is tossing and turning and moaning behind a veil. All the oil lamps have been turned down, save for one flickering light. And the captain of the guard simply says to David, “Sit over there, and play and sing for the king. See if you can get him to sleep.”
Here’s young David, away from home and probably frightened. Secretly he knows he is supposed to be the next king, but he’s told to play and sing for the current sleepless and tormented old king. It’s a very odd and frightening moment in the young boy’s life. Yet odd circumstances are nothing new for David.
David plays, and at last the king sleeps. In time, David is sent back to Bethlehem. Saul and his army head out for battle, and nothing else happens for David. It’s over. He simply goes back to shepherding.
And that’s exactly where God wanted him right then.
Leadership Focus: Promotion comes from the Lord.
- Young people today spend way too much time trying
to force their way into opportunities. In fact, nobody
is really immune to this. Whether we’re fresh out of
college or twenty years into a profession, when we see
even the hint of an opportunity, our initial instinct
may be to push the door open ourselves.
We dare not promote ourselves to our next job. We cannot force others to see what only we can see, or think we see, in ourselves and kick-start our destiny into a higher gear. Promotion doesn’t come from us or even from others. Promotion comes from the Lord, and the Lord only.
You are where you are right now because where you are is where God wants to use you right now. Maybe you’ve been told you’re going to be the next king. Are you king now? David wasn’t. David did his job there, right where he was. He was a shepherd, and he did it well. He was gifted in music, and he used it well. When he was given an opportunity to sing and play for—of all people—his demon-possessed predecessor, he did it well.
Wait on the Lord for your next opportunity. When that opportunity comes, don’t get caught in the snare of assigning too much significance to it. After David sang Saul to sleep, he didn’t snoop around and start planning a hostile takeover. He didn’t say to himself, “God has finally brought me to my destiny. It’s time to start my kingdom!” He did what he was brought there to do and then went home to his sheep.
David had an opportunity to serve the king, and he did it well. That is all God wanted from him at the time. His moment to become the ruling king had not yet arrived.
Follow David’s lead. Learn to wait on the Lord. Trust in His timing. Let God guide you to Saul’s camp. Let God work on Saul. Let God work on you. Let God work on Samuel. Eventually, all these lines intersect at just the right moment. At God’s moment.
God is in control of your life, and He is working at different places and at different times to get you where you need to be at just the right time.
Wait on the Lord. Let God promote you in His own way and in His own time. Arriving at the right place is good, of course. Arriving there at the right time is even better.
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