David was a good king who reigned in Israel from roughly 1010 to 970 B.C. David’s life was intermingled with Saul, Israel’s first king, who failed to walk with God and do His will. David was better than Saul. He was better because he was a man of faith, and faith always pleases the Lord (Heb 11:6). This did not mean that David was sinless, for he was not; but by faith he handled his sin in a biblical manner. David was also marked by humility and knew his advancement and blessings were from the Lord. Though God had anointed David king of Israel (1 Sam 16:1-13), the promotion did not go to his head. At the time he was anointed, he did not rush in and demand the throne, but waited on the Lord to give it to him; after all, Saul was still king in Israel until the Lord removed him. An example of David’s humility is observed by the fact that he did not abandon his duties as a shepherd, for though his three oldest brothers “had gone after Saul to the battle” (1 Sam 17:13), perhaps to pursue worldly glory by being near the king and the battle, David continued “to tend his father’s flock at Bethlehem” (1 Sam 17:15). Don’t miss that statement. David’s commitment to lowly work says something about his character, for there’s certainly no worldly glory to be had as a modest shepherd caring for sheep in a lonely field. Humility does not reach for glory; it reaches for the Lord’s will, and delights to serve in it, even if it leads to lowly and unknown places, doing necessary work that others will never see. To be sure, it was in those places that God prepared David for the battles he would face throughout his life.
God would eventually move David into the public spotlight, and He did this when He set the stage for David to slay Goliath. Jesse, David’s father, sent him to the battlefield to check on the welfare of his brothers (1 Sam 17:17-19). The text tells us, “So David arose early in the morning and left the flock with a keeper and took the supplies and went as Jesse had commanded him” (1 Sam 17:20). When David arrived, he saw Israel in battle array going out to the battlefield, and he “ran to the battle line and entered in order to greet his brothers” (1 Sam 17:22).
When David saw Goliath mocking the armies of Israel, he questioned how the Philistine could get away with it, asking, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). David’s comments were passed along to others until they eventually reached the ears of Saul, who sent for him (1 Sam 17:31). When questioned by Saul, David said, “Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:32). These are confident words uttered by a lowly shepherd-boy to the king of Israel. Saul could not believe what he was hearing and said, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth” (1 Sam 17:33). That’s human viewpoint at work. What Saul did not know, what no one could know, was that God had worked in the unseen and lowly places to prepare His servant, David, for this very occasion. But David knew it and answered, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him” (1 Sam 17:34-35). David then made the connection for Saul, saying, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God” (1 Sam 17:36). What’s interesting is that David, while caring for his father’s sheep, had no idea God was preparing him for something else, something greater. As an obedient son, David was simply doing his humble job faithfully, as his father expected. God often grows and strengthens His people in the out of the way places where no one sees. But it’s those times of private growth that we’re prepared for other battles, and the faith that works in one situation easily applies to the other. For this reason, David could say to Saul, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:37). And we know the rest of the story, how God used David to defeat Goliath with a sling and a stone, a shepherd’s weapon wielded by a hand of faith (1 Sam 17:38-58). In the end, it’s not human strength that wins the battle, “for the battle is the LORD’S” (1 Sam 17:47).
Saul sought to capitalize on David’s success by bringing him into his house and making him part of his army (1 Sam 18:1-5). But this backfired on Saul, as the people he was trying to impress were more impressed by David. The text states, “It happened as they were coming, when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’” (1 Sam 18:6-7). David’s success was not his own doing, but was from the Lord. However, Saul did not care about the Lord, nor did he care to recognize those whom God was blessing. Rather, Saul became fearful and irrational. The text reveals, “Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on” (1 Sam 18:8-9). If we’d been there with Saul in that moment, we might have tried to reason with him about his negative reaction to David’s success. But our words would have failed, for Saul was not a rational person; rather, he was governed by pride and fear, rather than humility and faith.
Saul’s mental decline created instability in his household, and one never knew what to expect from one moment to the next. Rather than rejoicing in David’s success, he sought his destruction and tried to kill him (1 Sam 18:10-11). When that failed, he tried to win him over by giving him his daughter in marriage, thus making David his son-in-law (1 Sam 18:17-27). Sin creates irrationality and fickle behavior, but submission to God is the basis for wisdom and a healthy mind, for “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; [but] fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Pro 1:7). It is often true that a person’s greatness is measured by the obstacles he overcomes, and David’s success can be measured, to some degree, by how he responded to Saul. Saul hated and tried to kill David, but David did not hate Saul, nor did he retaliate. Instead, David modeled good sense, coupled with wisdom and diplomacy (1 Sam 18:12-30). During this time of persecution, David developed a deep and lasting friendship with Jonathan, Saul’s son, who kept David informed of Saul’s plans and helped protect David when he was running for his life (see 1 Samuel chapters 19-23).
For nearly seven years David fled from Saul’s murderous pursuit, as he traveled from city to city and sometimes hid in caves in the wilderness. A significant event occurred when God brought Saul and David together in a cave in the wilderness of Engedi. Saul had taken three thousand men in pursuit of David (1 Sam 24:1-2), but Saul unknowingly put himself in a vulnerable spot when he went into a cave to relieve himself (1 Sam 24:3). What Saul did not know was that David and his men were hiding in that cave, and though David had opportunity to kill Saul, and was even encouraged by his men to do so (1 Sam 24:4), he would not, for he recognized that Saul was “the Lord’s anointed” and David would not harm him. David said to his troops, “Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD’S anointed” (1 Sam 24:6). And when speaking to Saul directly he said, “I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’S anointed” (1 Sam 24:10). David understood that even though Saul was governed by fear and hate, he was still God’s chosen king, and only God could remove him from office. David declared that he would not harm Saul, though Saul had tried to kill him on several occasions. David simply put the matter in the Lord’s hands and chose to let Him dispense justice, in His time and way. David said, “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Sam 24:12) and “The LORD therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand” (1 Sam 24:15). Saul, for a brief moment, recognized his sinfulness, apologized to David, and went home (1 Sam. 24:16-22a), “but David and his men went up to the stronghold” (1 Sam 24:22). I believe David did not return with Saul because he knew Saul would not change, and this was confirmed after Samuel died (1 Sam 25:1), and Saul again took three thousand men and went in pursuit of David to kill him (1 Sam 26:1-2). And again, David was given the advantage to kill Saul (1 Sam 26:3-7). On the first occasion, David was encouraged by his friends to kill Saul (1 Sam 24:4), and on the second occasion, David’s soldier, Abishai wanted to kill him (1 Sam 26:8), but David forbid it, saying to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” (1 Sam 26:9). And again, putting the matter in the Lord’s hand, David said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish” (1 Sam 26:10). The Lord did kill Saul battle, as Scripture states, “Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore, He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse” (1 Ch 10:13-14). Through all his interactions with Saul, David proved to be a better man.
After Saul’s death, all Israel came to David asking him to be their king, saying, “Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel’” (2 Sam 5:1-2). The leaders of Israel recognized God was the reason David was successful. “So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years” (2 Sam 5:3-4).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- Saul – The King who Failed
- Contrasting Good and Bad Leaders
- What is Integrity?
- Walking with God
- Characteristics of a Christian Leader
 Conservative scholarship places Saul’s reign roughly from 1050 to 1010 B.C., and David’s reign from 1010 to 970 B.C. We know David was thirty years of age when he became king (2 Sam 5:4), which would place his birthday around 1040 B.C. It is thought by many that David was about fifteen years of age when he was anointed king in 1025 B.C. This could be supported, in part, by Saul’s early description of David as a “youth”, a Hebrew word (נָעוּר naur) which commonly means boy, youth, or lad. If this is correct, it means Saul would had been king for twenty-five years before David was anointed, and then another fifteen years before David took the throne.
 The phrase, “The Lord’s anointed”, occurs seven times in chapters 24-26 (1 Sam 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11, 16, 23).
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