<< Part 2 This gets us ahead of our story, but since one doesn't get a chance to go to Israel every year, I took the opportunity. I hope the experience will enhance the rest of this series.
This article was written in Israel, where I visited many of the sites associated with David's life _ Bethlehem, David's birthplace, and the surrounding hills where he tended his father Jesse's sheep. The wilderness where he fled from Saul. The cities of the Philistines where David sought refuge from Saul, yet learned Philistine strategy so he could remove their stranglehold on Israel when he became king. Hebron, where David's forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were buried with their wives, Sarah, Rebeccah and Leah — also the city from which David reigned over the tribe of Judah during his first seven years as king. And, of course, Jerusalem, which David made the capital city of Israel 3000 years ago. Jerusalem, where David dreamed of and designed the Temple of God 'which his son Solomon built. Jerusalem, site of David's sins against God in the tragic episode with Bathsheba and Uriah. The Mount of Olives, where David fled, barefoot and bareheaded, from the rebellion of his own son Absalom. The Temple Mount, where David stayed the plague from God and sacrificed on the site he purchased from Araunah (where the Temple was later to stand). And David's tomb at Jerusalem, where he yet remains, waiting to become king of Israel, forever, in the resurrection.
David had gone through the bewildering — at the time — experience of being anointed by Samuel the prophet. Drawn from the ignoble position of being Jesse's eighth son, tending his father's sheep, David was catapulted into the heart of Saul's court as armor bearer for the king of Israel. This was a most highly trusted position, since, with the king's weapons in hand and the king unarmed, the armor bearer could assassinate him in the privacy of his chambers. Loved, respected, relied upon despite his youth, David soothed Saul with his music and conversation. Saul, fearful of the responsibility he held and more fearful of losing it, suffered fits of temper, migraine headaches, schizophrenic tantrums — and David was his only solace.
Since Israel had entered the promised land, the Philistines had been their relentless enemy. Occupying the coastal cities and plains, rich in commerce, powerful in war, holding a virtual monopoly on every implement of iron from hoe to chariot, they had succeeded in keeping the struggling tribes of Israel at bay. The oppressed Israelites were forced to humbly harvest their meager hill farms. Now the Philistines meant to annex their land and make all Israel their slaves!
Slaves they had been before in Egypt. Were they now to become slaves in their own promised land of freedom?
Not wanting to expend more men and arms than necessary, and, according to a common custom of those early ages, the Philistines offered to settle the whole affair in single combat with their chosen champion: Goliath!
"Then Goliath, a Philistine champion from Gath, came out of the Philistine ranks to face the forces of Israel. He was a giant of a man, measuring over nine feet tall! He wore a bronze helmet, a two-hundred-pound coat of mail, bronze leggings, and carried a bronze javelin several inches thick, tipped with a twenty-five-pound iron spearhead, and his armor bearer walked ahead of him with a huge shield.
"He stood and shouted across to the Israelis, 'Do you need a whole army to settle this? I will represent the Philistines, and you choose someone to represent you, and we will settle this in single combat! If your man is able to kill me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, then you must be our slaves! I defy the armies of Israel! Send me a man who will fight with me!'" (I Sam. 17:4-10, The Living Bible.)
Outmaneuvered, outfoxed, outgunned and outweighed, Saul and Israel were dismayed and frightened, uncertain, perplexed as to what to do in this situation.
For forty days they remained paralyzed, not knowing what to do. Morning and evening Goliath repeated his challenge. Philistine patience wore thin. Israel was desperate. Two armies were poised on the brink of total war, the outcome of which seemed inevitably in favor of the Philistines.
Knowing the outcome, we might be tempted to brush over the incident we all learned in Sunday school. But let's go to the battlefront. Do you know how much a man weighs who is able to fight in well over two hundred pounds of armor? The rule of thumb in the days of knights was that their shining armor was to be one-fifth of their body weight — and those men fought on horseback! That means Goliath weighed somewhere between 1000 to 1200 pounds! That's like a good-sized horse! In addition, he had weapons which were unavailable to most Israelis. Since he moved freely back and forth to offer his twice-daily challenge, he was obviously mobile in his awesome attire.
Now King Saul was no half-pint himself. Well over seven feet tall, he was formidable also. Since he was "head and shoulders above" all others in Israel, he was the only obvious champion for Israel. But he was king! He didn't want to take up the challenge; he knew of no one else to suggest — and no one volunteered!
Saul advertised for a champion. He offered a huge reward to anyone who could kill Goliath. He offered his own daughter to be wed to the victor (which promised a political plum and future influence, since he would be the king's son-in-law). He promised tax-exempt status to the victor's entire family. But still no takers!
Forty days of frantic effort to meet Goliath's challenge had the entire Israeli camp in an uproar. The costs of maintaining an army in the field were mounting — but were. more welcome than the cost of defeat. The psychological pressure was overwhelming as the Philistine attack became imminent. Saul was at his wits' end.
Into this scene came little David, a teenage boy. Dismissed from court when the army took to the field, David had gone back to tend his father's sheep. News traveled slowly in those days without TV reporters at the front, and David was not aware of the dilemma confronting Israel until he arrived from home with food for his soldier — brothers. The more he learned of the situation, and especially when he personally heard Goliath's challenge, the more he became incensed.
He saw things in a different light than those who had been wrestling first-hand with the problem for over a month. He didn't primarily see a giant in massive armor backed by an invincible army. He saw an insult to God! His first reaction was faith! His second was fight!
Goliath weighed somewhere between 1000 to 1200 pounds! That's like a good-sized horse! And he had weapons unavailable to most Israelis. In youthful vigor he burst in on Saul and said, "Don't worry about a thing. I'll take care of this Philistine!"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Saul roared in exasperation. Imagine, the king and the entire Israeli army had not been willing to face this Philistine challenge, and now some pink-cheeked, harp-plucking baby-sitter for sheep from back in the sticks offers his services! "How can a kid like you fight with a man like him? You are only a boy and he has been in the army since he was a boy!"
But David argued back.
"Look, boy or no boy, I've killed lions and bears with nothing but a club and my bare hands! Besides, that's got nothing to do with it. God is really the one who helped me slay the wild animals that preyed on my father's sheep, and God is the one who will help me kill this beast of a Philistine who dares defy the armies of the living God!"
Why Not? Faced with spunk, reason and faith, what could Saul say? The Philistines were probably going to attack at any time regardless, and then they would all have to fight. Saul was certainly not going to honor Goliath's terms of national slavery for Israel if he won, anyway. Time was running out. No one else had volunteered. Why not use David?
"All right, David, go ahead — and, uh, may the Lord be with you."
No use taking any chances though. Saul's own armor and weapons were rigged on David. Now he really did look ridiculous — he couldn't even move! Besides, he might have faith, but he was no fool! He had never trained with weapons or worn armor. He would have to fight Goliath with familiar weapons: a sling... and faith!
That sling, by the way, was not the type you may be familiar with. It was not a notched, Y-shaped piece of wood with a rubber band. David's sling was a precise and deadly weapon in the hands of an expert. It was constructed with two long (30 inches or so) straps of leather with a pocket in which to hold a rock at their ends. The centrifugal force generated by whirling the stone at arm's length built up the power of impact of a modern bullet! It had a greater range than even Goliath with his spear. And to add caution, thought and care to his faith, David chose five round, smooth stones (not just one) to use as his ammunition. Smooth to improve his aim and reduce friction. Five because David never heard of the six-gun and because five was all he figured he'd have time to use. For good measure, he took along his shepherd's staff.
God helps those who help themselves — at least a little bit!
Giant Insult Goliath had been waging psychological war on Israel for forty days — forty successful days. His morale and that of all the Philistines was high. The cowards of Israel were the laughingstock of the whole camp. Now at last it seemed there was going to be someone to take up Goliath's challenge. Decked out in all his armored glory, the half-ton monster went eagerly to face his hapless opponent.
What a shock it must have been when he saw what it was that proposed to fight him — him, Goliath: champion of Gath and all the Philistines! It must have unnerved him just a little! What good would it do his reputation to kill this imp? What great victory song could the women of Gath sing about his crushing of a gnat? Could this be serious? Were the Israelis playing some joke? He certainly couldn't refuse to fight, since he had offered the challenge to anyone eighty times in a row for forty days. Now it was the Jolly Gath Giant — ho, ho, ho — who couldn't figure out what to do! But all his comrades were watching, and he had to do something! This was insulting!
"Am I a dog," Goliath roared at a hundred and forty decibels, "that you send out a pink-faced punk to fight me with a stick?" The shepherd's staff was David's only visible weapon — a sling can be concealed in the hand. Then Goliath roundly cursed David with a string of Philistine epithets in the name of every god he could
Playing games with God, His will, and His people can be not only dangerous, but humiliating as well!recall and shouted that he was going to make bird food out of this toy soldier!
There! At least that ought to take the edge off the humiliation and make for an interesting anecdote back in the bars of Gath!
The only trouble was at this point Goliath had made the most classic and basic of military blunders: he underestimated his enemy! He made the same mistake all Israel made before him: he discounted God. He couldn't see God. The only weapon he could see was a club — and that was in the hands of a boy! Blind with rage, Goliath charged this shrimp, contemptuously leaving behind his defensive shield (which could have warded off David's rocks until Goliath could close with him). After all, what giant needs a shield against a 'boy with a stick!
Victory From the Jaws of Defeat Committed, David ran toward his enemy, fixing a stone in his sling as he ran. Stopping suddenly when in range, David whirled his concealed weapon. The last words the giant of Gath was heard — to say were: "Here I come, bird feed!" The stone found its mark in Goliath's unprotected forehead and dropped him like a stunned ox! Since David had no sword of his own, he rushed forward and, grasping the Philistine's own weapon from his senseless fingers, killed him with his own sword and then whacked off his head!
The unbelievable had happened! Stunned, shocked, and in turn frightened, the Philistine army turned in flight. Israel gave a great shout and followed in pursuit. A bloodbath ensued. Goliath and thousands of his fellow Philistines became that day the bird feed they were so sure he would make out of David. What an upset victory. Nobody believed it until they 'recounted it in one another's ears a hundred times.
David quietly took Goliath's head (a burden he could hardly carry unaided) and had his armor sent to his own tent. David knew the outcome all along — but everyone else was beside himself with joy!,
Spontaneous victory songs sprang up to celebrate the event. One was particularly odious to Saul. Its refrain went: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands!"
Knowing what he had offered to the slayer of Goliath, Saul's first question to his chief of staff, Abner, was, "What kind of family does this David come from?" His promise of great monetary reward, tax exemption for the family and marriage to his own daughter weighed heavily on his mind. He knew Samuel's prophecy that God had already rejected him as king, that another had been selected — and he viewed everyone with suspicion.
From that time forward, Saul kept a jealous watch on David. When the evil spirit from God tormented him, he called David as before to soothe him. But, while David played, Saul flung his spear at him to kill him! Watchful and nimble, David dodged and fled. Finally Saul banned him from his presence and demoted him in rank. But in the public eye this only increased the popularity of David, the giant killer!
David's success had spelled dire failure in the court of Saul!
Since his offer of reward was public, Saul was faced with having to deliver it. He was reluctant to become a relative of David's, even through marriage. He puzzled on how to keep his promise in the public eye without having to actually perform it.
David was modest even when the daughter of Saul was offered. "Who am I to become the king's son-in-law? My family is nothing in Israel!"
So, when the time came for the wedding, Merab, Saul's daughter, was married to another.
All was seemingly settled, but complications set in. Saul's daughter Michal had been smitten with love for David!
Saul was delighted to hear about it. He now saw how to rid himself of David once and for all. He appeared to be all for the marriage, encouraging the match. "Don't worry about the dowry, David, my son," soothed Saul. "You have done enough for me and for Israel to deserve her hand — all I ask for dowry is the foreskins of one hundred Philistines!" There — that ought to solve the problem. David might be able to slay one giant, but not a hundred Philistines! Surely he would die seeking his dowry for Saul's daughter's hand. He would fall in battle. Saul would be magnanimous in mourning a great and courageous fallen hero, would provide a big state funeral, would shed crocodile tears — all the while hiding. his joy inside!
But unpredictable David jubilantly returned from a Philistine raid with two hundred Philistine foreskins. Saul's plot failed. David's popularity soared. Saul gained a new son.
Drat! Back to square one!
Could it be that David, later recognizing Saul's clever plot to remove him by death in battle, refined and used the same plot successfully against Uriah when he had his own problems to face in the Bathsheba crisis?
Royal Games Now a member of the royal household, David became more famous and popular than anyone in Israel. He was a constant threat to Saul, a thorn in his side, an ache in his mind, a fear in his bones. Not being as clever as his young antagonist, Saul resorted to direct means of ridding himself of his menace.
Jonathan, Saul's own son, had become fast friends with David. Michal, Saul's own daughter, was David's wife. Saul was in a pickle! While feigning love and praise for David in their presence and his, Saul boiled with frustration and hate within.
With the Philistines attacking again, and David successful in every foray against them, Saul's spirits sank to a new low. Tormented and despondent, he called on David and, while he played and sang for him, attempted once again to pin him to the wall with his spear. Foiled again! The spear was still quivering in the wall, and David was gone!
Saul had David's house surrounded and sent his troops to arrest him. Curses — foiled again! Michal saved David from her father's thugs. She let him out the back window and put an idol in his bed. Saul's men slew an already dead god instead of David!
Confronted with her demented father's rage, Michal lied: "I had to, father — he threatened to kill me if I didn't help him!"
God's Game Fleeing to Samuel to seek advice on how to act in this dread circumstance, David hid in Naioth. When his whereabouts were reported to Saul, a contingent of soldiers was sent to arrest him.
But a strange thing happened on the way to Naioth. The soldiers met Samuel and the other prophets with him prophesying. God's Spirit fell on them all — and the soldiers forgot their mission and joined in the prophesying — no doubt saying things uncomplimentary about their king, Saul.
Another squad of soldiers was sent. Ditto.
A third group was dispatched. Same song, third verse; could be better, but it turned out worse!
Saul, in an absolute lather by now, went after David
What good would it do his reputation to kill this imp? What great victory song could the women of Gath sing about his crushing of a gnat?himself. But the same fate befell him. Saul the king tore off all his clothes (signifying his being stripped of all authority) and lay naked all night prophesying right along with his three units of soldiers-cum-prophets and Samuel's men!
Everybody was incredulous! Saul himself saying bad things about himself, good things about David, foretelling his own doom, praising God! The story was told with glee throughout the land and so famous was it that a saying remains today: "Is Saul also among the prophets?"
Playing games with God, His will, and His people can be not only dangerous, but humiliating as well!
Coming in the next installment: exile, guerrilla war, atrocities!
(To Be Continued)