Now the Philistine came closer and closer to David, with his shield-bearer before him.
1 Samuel 17:38-54. (EPHES-DAMMIM.)
1. David was specially prepared for the conflict by the whole of his previous life, and especially by his successful attack upon the lion and the bear, and his victory over himself.
2. He was providentially led into the conflict. "Jesse little thought of sending his son to the army just in the critical juncture; but the wise God orders the time and all the circumstances of actions and affairs so as to serve his designs of securing the interest of Israel and advance the man after his own heart" (M. Henry).
3. He was inwardly impelled to the conflict by the Spirit of the Lord that had come upon him (1 Samuel 16:13), and had formerly inspired Saul with fiery zeal against the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:6). If he had gone into it in any other manner he would doubtless have failed.
4. He rendered invaluable service to Israel by the conflict, not only thereby repelling the invasion of the Philistines, but also teaching them the spirit they should cherish, and the kind of king they needed. "It is not too much to assert that this event was a turning point in the history of the theocracy, and marked David as the true king of Israel, ready to take up the Philistine challenge of God and his people, and kindling in Israel a new spirit, and in the might of the living God bringing the contest to victory" (Edersheim).
5. He became an appropriate type of Christ by the conflict. "It is a rehearsal of Christ's temptation and victory a thousand years afterwards" (Wordsworth's 'Com.').
6. He was also an eminent pattern for Christians in the conflict; exhibiting the spirit which they should possess in their warfare with "the world, the flesh, and the devil." "David's contest with Goliath will only be apprehended in its true light if the latter be regarded as a representative of the world, and David the representative of the Church" (Hengstenberg). Notice -
I. THE WEAPONS which he chose (vers. 38-40).
1. He neglected not the use of weapons altogether. To have done so would have been rash and presumptuous; for it is God's method to grant success to those who employ the legitimate aids which he has provided for the purpose. Although David did not trust in weapons of war, he did not throw them away, but used them wisely. We must do the same in the spiritual conflict.
2. He rejected the armour, defensive and offensive, which seemed to others indispensable. "I cannot go in these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him" (ver. 39). Some weapons may appear to others, and even to ourselves, at first, to be the best, and yet not be really such. Some weapons may be suitable to others, but not to us. We must learn by experience. We must be simple, genuine, and true to ourselves. And above all, we must look for Divine guidance in the matter. "The weapons of our. warfare are not carnal," etc. (2 Corinthians 10:4).
3. He selected the weapons which were most effective. "And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones," etc. (ver. 40) - selected them carefully, knowing well which were the best for his purpose; and he was not satisfied with one or two merely, but provided a reserve. His weapons were insignificant only in the view of the inconsiderate. They were the most suitable that can be conceived, and gave greatest promise of success; and his genius was shown in their selection. Intelligence was opposed to brute force. "It was just because the sling and the stone were not the weapons of Goliath that they were best fitted to David's purpose. They could be used at a distance from the enemy; they made his superior resources of no avail; they virtually reduced him to the dimensions and condition of an ordinary man; they did more, they rendered his extraordinary size a disadvantage; the larger he was, the better for the mark. David, moreover, had been accustomed in his shepherd life to the sling; it had been the amusement of his solitary hours, and had served for his own protection and that of his flock; so that he brought to his encounter with Goliath an accuracy of aim and a strength and steadiness of arm that rendered him a most formidable opponent" (A.J. Morris). The lesson here taught is not that anything will do to fight with, but that there must be in spiritual, as well as in secular, conflicts a proper adaptation of means to ends.
II. THE SPIRIT which he displayed (vers. 41-48).
1. Humility. His heart was not haughty and proud (Psalm 131:1), as Eliab said it was, but humble and lowly. He was conscious of unworthiness before God, of utter weakness and insufficiency in himself, and ready to do and bear whatever might be the will of the Lord concerning him. Humility (from humus, the ground) lies in the dust, and is the root out of which true excellence grows. It is the first, the second, and the third thing in religion (Augustine). "Before honour is humility" (Proverbs 15:32). "He giveth grace to the humble." "Be clothed with humility."
2. Faith. "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts" (ver. 45; see 1 Samuel 1:3). He looked beyond man to God, and relied upon his help. "He did not compare himself with Goliath, but he compared Goliath with Jehovah," who was the Leader and "God of the ranks of Israel." He believed, and therefore he spoke, and fought, and prevailed (2 Corinthians 4:13). "Although unarmed in the estimation of men, he was armed with the Godhead" (St. Ambrose).
3. Zeal. He was little concerned about his own honour and renown, but he was "very jealous for the Lord God of hosts" (1 Kings 19:14). He heard the gods of the heathen extolled (ver. 43), and the name of Jehovah blasphemed, and he was desirous above all things that he should be glorified. "All the earth shall know," etc. (ver. 46). "All this assembly shall know," etc. (ver. 47). When we fight for God we may confidently expect that he will fight for us. "The battle is the Lord's."
4. Courage, which stood in contrast to the fear with which Israel was smitten, and was the fruit of his humility, faith, and zeal. It was shown in his calm and dauntless attitude in going forth against his opponent, in the presence of the two armies, in breathless suspense; in his bold and confident answer to the contemptuous challenge of the foe; and in his eagerness and energy in the actual conflict. "David hasted, and ran," etc. (vers. 48, 49, 51). "So David prevailed."
III. THE VICTORY which he achieved. Not only was the boastful Philistine overthrown, speedily, signally, and completely, but also -
1. The enemy fled in terror (ver. 51), and their power was broken (ver. 52).
2. Israel was imbued with a new and better spirit (vers. 52, 53).
3. He himself was honoured - by God in giving him the victory and opening before him a wider sphere of activity, by the king (vers. 55-58; 1 Samuel 18:2), and by all the people. Even the Philistines long afterwards held his name in dread (1 Samuel 21:11). "This first heroic deed of David was of the greatest importance to him and all Israel, for it was his first step on the way to the throne to which Jehovah had resolved to raise him" (Keil). "Raised by the nation, he raised and glorified it in return; and, standing at the crowning point of the history of the nation, he concentrates in himself all its brilliance, and becomes the one man of greatest renown in the whole course of its existence" (Ewald). - D.
And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David.
I. THE APPARENT INEQUALITY OF THE COMBATANTS. To the eye of sense the conflict between the Church of God and that armed Goliath of the world appears as if it could only end in the Church's defeat! It does really sound like presumption and folly to sing of victory when we present only ruddy and unarmoured Davids. There is a quantity the world's eye never sees! — chariots whose wheels, horses whose hoofs move noiselessly, such as Elisha's servant once saw. There is a quality the world knows not and has no more power to recognise than had Herod to recognise the kingliness of purity, when Christ stood before him.
II. THE REAL INEQUALITY OF THE COMBATANTS. "Things ere not what they seem." There is more than eye can see. David tells him of dependence upon Divine power (ver. 46). How calm one can be when dependent wholly and alone on the Lord! How strangely at variance with appearances a man's words may then be! "This day." So Elijah could stand before Ahab, or the priests of Baal or Carmel, or Bunyan before the judges at Bedford. Do not mistake presumption for dependence; they differ eternally. Dependence upon God never opposes commonsense, but sanctifies it, David's heart is resting in his God, his head and hand fulfilling the Divine command. How often at fault is the judgment of sense! Yet this old-world scene occurs every day. We may still see aggregations of mere material strength — "walking mountains of brass," to quote Matthew Henry. It is no dream, no fancy, to remind you that before the enthusiasm of faith, and by Divine direction, these shall fall. The Church has yet to learn the deep meaning of the words, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual." Who can successfully cope with evil licensed by Government, the fearful monopolies of vice, prostitution under British rule in India, gambling beneath the very eye of the legislative assembly? This victory was fraught with momentous consequences for David. From that moment he became acquainted with life in quite another aspect than that of his Bethlehem home. As Dr. MacLaren beautifully says, "He began to learn its hate and effort, hollow fame, whispering calumnies, and political intrigues." Until then he had not heard the hollow tone of courtiers nor the frenzied laugh of disappointment. The door of victory was for David, as it is for all God's warriors, the door of trial. It was needful for David to know sorrow, to become acquainted with grief. He must learn the meaning of hate and deceit; not to practise, but avoid; must come into touch with natures he will afterwards have to rule. He must gain a mastery over himself. The metal must be annealed.
(H. E. Stone.)
I. THE WISDOM OF FOLLOWING THE SPIRIT'S SUGGESTIONS AS TO THE METHOD OF A WORK OF FAITH. "And Saul clad David with his apparel, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail." For the moment Saul was allowed to array David in the heavy war suit of the day. A sense of the ridiculous may have come first to the relief of the lad. He was not so large a man as the king, and the clanking plates of metal would impede the free movement of the volunteer. There are times when an appreciation of the humorous elements of a situation will prevent serious folly. If good people who overwork prophecy on every possible occasion had only a slight intuition of the appearance of their performances, they would be aware that something must be wrong in their outfit. Scripture does not lend itself to grotesque interpretations without exacting penalties from its manipulators. There are fads of false science which are so silly that they cannot be meant to be incorporated into the great body of the world's dignified truth. The boy in his grandfather's coat is not counted a serious actor on the stage of life. But beyond this feeling of unfitness there was this reason, "I have not proved them." The youth felt the seriousness of the crisis, notwithstanding his bravery. He knew the long practice required to get an unerring aim with the sling. Beyond all these motives which influenced David would be the assurance that God, who gave him a work to do, would show the method of it. The Lord who called to the bold undertaking would give the plan.
II. THE RANGE OF GIFTS WHICH THE SPIRIT CAN USE AND BLESS IN AN ENTERPRISE OF FAITH. "And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even his scrip; and his sling was in his hand." This was not the first experience of the Lord's consecration of the youth's gifts. "Thy servant smote both the lion and the bear." The Lord often makes use of men's gifts to get them to a position of vantage from which they can do more efficient service. Sir Hope Grant when a youth was selected because of his skill in playing the flute for the staff of Lord Saltoun, who was going out to take command of the British forces in China. The long voyage of months around the Cape of Good Hope to their destination was thus to be made more tolerable for the officers. Grant soon became the foremost Christian in the English army in the East and one of its most successful generals. David's reputation for music got him a place at the court of Saul, and perhaps the story of his rugged valour among the shepherds secured him a hearing as a champion of Israel. Guizot's gifts as a diplomat made him necessary to his Catholic sovereigns and gave him a position from which he could exert a beneficent influence for an oppressed church in France. John Wycliffe's parliamentary skill and zeal for liberty mede him an important ally of the House of Lancaster and gained him the protection which he needed to spread the doctrines of the Gospel. Many accomplishments of the Christian may be of service in gaining an entrance to doors and hearts closed to direct religious appeal. Dr. Asa Gray, the botanist, records of his long and singularly successful career as a Christian and a man of science that when he was ready for any forward movement he almost always found that things were prepared for him. Let one have himself in training for a useful life and he will find a place and opportunity awaiting the employment of his gifts.
III. A CONSECRATED YOUTH EARLY BEGINS TO BEAR HIS COUNTRY'S BURDENS AS A WORK OF FAITH. "But I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, which thou hast defied." David belongs to a legion of those out of every nation who have consecrated their youth to their country's freedom and to God. They are a nobler band than Sons of the Revolution. They have been the sires of States. "The war song that has made all Germans merge their local differences in one great purpose — the common fatherland — that united Bavarians, Prussians, Saxons, end Wurtembergers in 1870, and the Imperial Crown to the House of Hohenzollern — that song is 'Die Wacht am Rheim.' "It was written at the age of twenty-one by a poor German roused against the French aggressions upon his native land. Not all such heroic souls have been permitted to take up arms. Their stanzas, their speeches, their deeds of mercy have made them members of this patriotic and Christian fraternity. Every nation has contributed its quota for this ancient peerage to which David belonged. It is older than all orders, chapters, and lodges. The people who are to be preserved in their inheritance and liberties must still be able to call forth the devotion of these volunteer champions of law, institutions, faith, and native land.
(W. R. Campbell.)
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