Now it happened in the days of Samuel that the tribes of Israel made up their mind to choose a king to rule over them. Their choice fell upon a leader whose name was Saul, and who was made the first king of Israel.
King Saul was a brave man and a wise leader, who made the name of the Israelites feared by all their enemies round about. But after a time he acted in a way displeasing to God, and was reproved by Samuel in His name. Saul, however, went on in his sinful ways, and this filled the heart of the prophet Samuel, who was now an old man, with sore trouble and distress.
Samuel lived, among his young men on the little hill of Ramah, mourning because of King Saul's sinful ways. But there came a time when God told him -- perhaps in a vision -- to mourn no longer. He was to fill a small horn with oil and go to the village of Bethlehem, and there anoint one of the sons of Jesse the shepherd to be the next king; but at first the old man was afraid to go, lest King Saul should hear of it and kill him.
Then one day he left Ramah early in the morning, riding on an ass, with a young man behind him driving a cow; for he gave out that he was going to offer a sacrifice to God. Their path lay to the southwards, and on by the camel road into the Hebron hills. It was a long ride, in hot autumn weather, along these stony paths glistening in the Eastern sun.
The watchers on the walls of Bethlehem saw Samuel, while he was yet a long way off, riding slowly up the rough path, with his servant driving a cow before him; and they were alarmed, for the old prophet was the chief judge in the land. Then the leading men of the place hastened out through the gate in the wall to meet him, and ask if he came to them in peace.
He answered that he had come to offer a sacrifice, and bade them wash themselves in the stream, and put on clean clothing, that they might join him in it. Riding through the low arch in the walls, he asked for Jesse, a wealthy shepherd of the place, who had hundreds of flocks and herds; and when he found him, he ordered him and his sons to wash and dress and come to the feast also. Jesse thought he was highly honoured, for he had eight sons, and he was pleased that they should show themselves before the great prophet and judge of Israel.
A fire of sticks was kindled upon the flat rock outside the village walls, on which the sacrifices were always made; and the prophet killed the cow he had brought, and cut it in pieces for burning. Part of the flesh was then placed upon the wood, and as the old man raised his hands to heaven the flames leapt up and burned the flesh; and all the time the men of the village stood round him in their rough cloaks and striped kerchiefs, looking on in silence at this solemn act of worship.
Women in their tunics of coarse blue and red, with strings of coins in their dark hair, stood apart at a distance, for they were not allowed to share in the worship of the men. The feast was to come next, at which the women would be allowed to serve the men; but before Samuel would permit it to begin, there was something else, that must be done.
Calling Jesse to him, he said that he wished to see his sons. Jesse knew at once that something important was about to happen; but the people did not know, and wondered why the feast was delayed, and what it all meant when Jesse called his sons forward by their names, and bade them walk slowly, one at a time, past the aged prophet. First came the eldest, in striped cloak and gray tunic, carrying his thick war-spear in his hand; and when Samuel marked his height and his fine face, he said, --
"Here, surely, is the chosen king."
But the voice of God within him seemed to whisper, "Nay, I have rejected him. God sees not as man sees; for man looks upon the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart."
Then Samuel told Jesse that his eldest son was not chosen, and he passed on. Jesse next called up his second son, who walked slowly past the prophet, with sweeping cloak and club in hand, armed for the fight.
"Neither hath God chosen this," Samuel said to the father; and the second son passed on. Jesse then called forward the third, who also walked past the old prophet with head erect, and spear in hand, hoping that he would be chosen.
"Neither hath God chosen this," was all that the grim old man said of him.
The people sat in the sunshine, on the slope of the hill outside the village walls, shading their eyes and looking on in silence, until seven of the sons of Jesse, dressed and armed like chiefs, had gone slowly past the old man with the keen black eyes; but Samuel made no movement, and Jesse was deeply grieved.
"God hath not chosen these. Are all thy children here?" Samuel asked, turning sharply to the shepherd, who trembled as he replied, --
"There remains yet David; but he is my youngest son, and is watching the sheep."
David was too young to be thought of in this important business. He was down in the hollow with his shepherd's staff and dog and sling, playing upon his harp, and watching from afar the fire and smoke and crowds, as he kept his father's flocks.
"Send and fetch him, for we will not sit down to the feast until he comes," was the stern reply. The brothers were angry at this useless waste of time; but one of them was soon leaping down the stony path to the valley, shouting with his hand to his mouth, and waving a stick in the air to attract his young brother's attention.
The people waited in the sunshine, and soon they saw David, with his tunic pulled through his leather belt so as to leave his legs free, running swiftly up the hill, for he was very fleet of foot. He came in his shepherd's torn and soiled garb, and had to wash at the brook before he was fit to stand before the prophet.
When at length he drew near, Samuel saw a young man, not tall, but clearly of great strength, with light hair, ruddy cheeks, and bright eyes; and he thought the youth very good to look upon as he stood before him dressed in his striped tunic and leather girdle, from which hung his shepherd's club, sling, and knife. Samuel looked at his frank face, and as he looked God said to him, --
"Arise, anoint him: for this is he."
Going forward, the old man bade the shepherd youth kneel down and uncover his head. And David did so, taking off his bright kerchief, little knowing what was about to happen. Then raising his horn before the astonished people, Samuel poured the sweet-smelling oil upon the young man's head, saying as he did so that God had chosen this young man to be a prince in Israel.
Upon this the people raised a great shout of joy, and Samuel gave the signal for the feast that was to follow. Then the men all sat down on the ground about the large wood fire, while the women came forward to serve them.
David, the shepherd of Bethlehem, was not a mere boy when the prophet Samuel called him from watching his sheep to pour scented oil upon his head, and tell him, before all the people of the village, that he would one day be a prince in the land. He was already a village hero, for one day he had killed a lion that sprang upon one of his sheep as they fed in the valley to the south, near the desert country.
He had also killed a bear that tried to seize one of his young lambs; for David was so strong that he could break an iron bow with his hands, and so swift on his feet that he could catch a wild deer in a race over good ground. He was not so tall as his fighting brothers, but he was stronger, and knew how to use the sword, bow, club, sling, and spear; for all the young men of the villages learned the use of these weapons in their sports and games.
The lad was also fond of music, and could play and sing. Sitting in the shade of a shadowy rock, or at the mouth of a dark cave, as he watched his sheep wandering to and fro in the sunshine, he often played strange music upon a rude harp made by himself; and he would sing songs of his own making about the white flocks and herds, the green hills and cool streams, the red-cheeked women at the well, and the young men of the village where he had his home. He was called the "sweet singer," and his skill on the harp was well known in the villages round about Bethlehem.
When he left his own village and went to live with Samuel's young men at Ramah, to learn to read and write, he learned also to play upon the pipe and guitar, the tambourine and large harp, and to sing, not songs of love and war, but praises of God and of His goodness to men. Under the teaching of Samuel his heart opened towards God as a flower to the sun. Yet he did not always stay at Ramah, but often came back to his home, to help his father, and to watch the sheep with his brothers, who thought him too forward and did not like him much.
King Saul was now very unhappy, for the aged prophet Samuel would not see him, and the king felt that God was not with him; and he often had fits of sickness when he was in deep trouble, and only music could soothe his mind. Hearing that a harper was wanted for the king, one of David's friends praised his playing, his wisdom, his bravery, and his good looks, saying that God was with him; and when King Saul heard this he sent a messenger to Bethlehem for the shepherd-harper. Now no one ever came before the king without a gift in his hand, so Jesse sent with David an ass laden with a sack of wheat, a kid, and a skin of wine, as a present to King Saul.
With his ruddy cheeks, and his long fair hair falling upon his blue tunic, David pleased the gloomy king as he stood before him; and when the youth played softly upon the harp, and sang shepherd songs of love, passing from these into songs in praise of God, the king loved the youth greatly, and sent word to his father that he would keep David beside him.
Jonathan, the king's son, and Michal, the king's daughter, also learnt to love the shepherd-singer as he went in and out before the king. Then Saul made him one of his fighting chiefs, who stood daily before him; and whenever his sickness came upon the king he called for the shepherd-harper, and David played music both sad and gay until the cloud passed from the king's mind. Sometimes David stayed at Gibeah, where the king's house was, and sometimes at Bethlehem; and always once a year he went home to the great family feast of the new moon, when all his father's relatives were gathered together.
The fighting between King Saul and the Philistine tribes, who lived near the seacoast, never ceased; for the Philistines had made up their minds to make the men of Israel their servants, and King Saul was determined that his people should be free.
Once upon a time the Philistines gathered their young men, and came, with their battle-flags and drums, up the great Vale of Elah, the valley of oaks, to attack Saul's people. Stopping at the village of Succoth, they chose a secure place, and put up their black tents among the thick bushes, camping about ten miles from the round hill of Bethlehem.
[Illustration: David and Goliath.]
Then King Saul sent out messengers to sound the war-horns up and down the valleys, and gather his fighting-men to drive back their old enemies. Three of David's brothers grasped their spears and bows, and joined King Saul with the men of the tribe of Judah; but David stayed for the time at Bethlehem, to take care of his old father and the flocks.
In those days soldiers had to find their own food, and armies sat down before each other for many days before they began to fight. After a time Jesse sent David with asses laden with corn and cakes for his brothers, and ten little cheeses for their captain; and David led them through the hills and down the wide glen to the camping-place opposite Succoth, where the king's men looked across the valley to their foes on the opposite slope, while the river ran between.
Then one day the Philistines sent out a champion, a giant named Goliath of Gath, who wore a helmet of brass and a brazen coat of mail of very great weight. He had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a gorget of brass between his shoulders. The staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his shield-bearer went before him. This champion sent a boastful challenge to the Israelites, bidding them send out a man to fight with him. "If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants," ran the message; "but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants."
This challenge he repeated for forty days, but there was no man found among the men of Israel who dared to go out against Goliath of Gath.
Then Saul made it known that whoever could kill Goliath should have great riches, should marry the princess his daughter, and win great honour for himself and for his family.
Now when David reached the place with the food for his brothers, he was amazed to see that the men of Israel were so much afraid, and he asked, "Who is this Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" And those who stood around told him how the giant warrior had come out day after day, and how the king had promised to enrich the man who should slay him.
Then it was told to King Saul how David had come and had asked about the king's promise. So the king sent for the youth; and when he had been brought in, David said, "Let no man's heart be troubled, for thy servant will go and fight with the Philistine." But Saul said, "Thou art not able to go out against him; for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth."
Then David told Saul how he had killed with his own hands a fierce lion, and a bear which had stolen a lamb from the flock. "The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear. He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine," he said simply. And Saul said, "Go, and the Lord be with thee."
The king then armed David with his own armour; but the mail was too heavy for the young man, and he said, "I cannot fight with these, for I have not tested them." So he took his shepherd's staff in his hand, and choosing five smooth stones out of the brook, put them in his shepherd's bag; and with his sling in his hand he drew near to the Philistine.
When Goliath looked at David he was filled with scorn, and disdained him; for he was but a youth, as any one could plainly see. And with a frown upon his face he said angrily, "Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field."
Then David said to the boastful Philistine, "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the bodies of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this army shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands."
Upon this the giant came near to meet David; and the youth made haste and took a stone out of his bag, and slung it with such skill and force that it smote Goliath in the forehead, and sank so deeply that the huge warrior fell lifeless to the ground. David then ran and stood upon the body of the giant, and having no weapon except his sling, cut off Goliath's head with his own sword. When the Philistines saw that their champion had fallen, they turned and ran without more ado.
Then with loud shouts the men of Israel rushed across the vale of oaks, shooting their arrows as they ran, for they were good bowmen. Scattering the Philistines, they drove them back to their own country, until they took refuge in their walled towns of Gath and Ekron.
After this the men of Israel returned to their enemy's camp at Succoth, and plundered the tents, wagons, sacks, and baggage. When this had been done they feasted and rejoiced over the victory, and drove off the horses and cattle of their foes, carrying everything up to their own towns and villages in the hills. And from that day forward David was the hero of all the young men of the army of Saul.
The tall, gloomy king now sent for David, the hero of the battle of Succoth, and leaning on his spear among his chiefs, Saul told the young shepherd of Bethlehem that he must not return any more to his father's house, for he was to be one of the chief captains of the army. And David was glad, for he loved fighting. When Jonathan, the king's son, saw the young shepherd standing daily among the chiefs in his father's tent, he took a strong liking for him; and as time passed his soul was knit with David's, until he loved him as he loved himself. And the king was pleased that his son and David were such good friends.
One day Jonathan took David into his tent, and there the young men promised to be friends all their lives till death should part them. Now David was very poor compared with the king's son, and had only the rough clothing of a herdsman, thick and strong, but not beautiful; so Jonathan took off his fine cloak, his gay tunic, his rich belt, and even his glittering sword and bow, and put them all upon David, giving them freely to him as a present. Then the king's son brought out other clothes and weapons, and dressed himself once more like a soldier-prince.
And when the young men came out of the tent into the sunshine, both dressed like princes, the people saw that they were as brothers; and the king saw it too, and thought that Jonathan was very foolish. But David was so strong and brave, and such a favourite with the tribesmen, that the king set him over a troop of young men; and whenever Saul went out to fight, David and his band went with him, and this greatly pleased the chiefs and the fighting-men of the army.
King Saul went on fighting with his old enemies the Philistines, who came up at certain seasons of the year to plunder the land, and had to be chased down the long valleys, and back into their walled towns again; but with David's help the king was now able to beat them as he had never done before. And each time they drove the Philistines down, the young men returned leaping, running, dancing, and showing off their skill and strength on the way; and the villagers would often come out to meet them, and rejoice also.
After one of these fights, as the tribesmen came back, with David riding beside the tall, dark king, the young women of the towns came out and danced before them on the road. Beating their tambourines, they shouted wild songs in praise of the fighting-men, singing and answering each other in turn after the manner of the Hebrews. King Saul listened, and his brows grew dark as he heard them praising his brave young captain more than himself.
"Saul hath slain his thousands," sweetly sang one band of maidens.
"And David his tens of thousands," answered another.
These girls little dreamed what harm they were doing with their light-hearted songs. David himself was pleased with the praise of the young women, as we might expect; but as the tall king rode on he grew more angry, saying to himself as he spurred forward his horse, "What more can he have but the kingdom itself?" And he watched David from that day forward, to see whether the young man was aiming at being king.
King Saul's sickness of mind returned from time to time, and day after day David stood before him, playing upon his harp and singing the king's praises; but now Saul would not listen. David's music did not make him well as it had before, but rather worse, for he was full of suspicion of his young chief, and hated the sight of him. But the king's friends thought David's music was the best thing to restore the king to health.
Now the dark-faced king was never without a weapon near his hand; and holding his long spear, he would sit and listen to the young harper, now pleased, now angry, for he sometimes liked David and sometimes hated him. Twice he seized a little spear and flung it at him, crying out that he would pin him to the wall; but his aim was bad. Perhaps he did not mean to harm him; but at all events David avoided the weapon and ran out.
The king in his sickness of mind next became afraid of his young captain. Wishing to have him out of his sight, he set him over a band of a thousand fighting-men, and bade him live with them at a distance. But the men who were under David liked him more than ever.
King Saul now wished that David was dead, so fiercely did he hate him; but he did not think it wise to kill him himself, so he made a plan to get him killed. He offered him his daughter Merab for a wife, if he would go down the hills and fight the Philistines in their own country; and the crafty king said this, hoping that they would kill him.
Now David had no wish to marry Merab, but he loved fighting, so he went willingly, fought stoutly with the Philistines, and came back alive. Then Saul broke his promise, and gave Merab to another man, who gave him a rich present, as was the custom when a king's daughter was wedded; and David was not sorry, for Michal, Merab's younger sister, loved the brave young captain, and he loved her in return.
Saul was pleased when he heard of this; for he hoped David would be willing to go into greater danger to win Michal as his wife. And he sent a messenger to tell David that he was well pleased with him, and would like him to marry Michal; and that as he was too poor to give the king a present, he would not ask him for one. But if he would kill one hundred Philistines within a certain time, that would stand for a present.
We are not told what Michal thought of this cruel bargain, for Saul hoped and believed that David would be killed, but David himself was well pleased. He and his young men went down the long valleys to the land of the Philistines, where they went about killing people, until they had slain two hundred; and before the appointed time was up David returned to Saul once more to tell him what he had done.
This was followed by days and nights of rejoicing among the young men of David's camp. The young women decked their hair with flowers, and danced to the sound of the timbrels, as they praised the beauty and goodness of Michal, the king's daughter; and the young men danced and shouted round the camp fires, praising David, the bridegroom, as a mighty man of valour. Saul was unwilling to give up Michal to the young captain; but he now feared him greatly, and could not break his promise. So David got the young princess Michal to be his wife; and after the death of Saul and Jonathan, who were both slain in battle, he became king of the Israelites, as Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, had foretold.