1 Samuel 17:19-31
Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.…
What have I now done? Is there not a cause? (ver. 29. Was it not a word? or, Was it anything more than a word?). In the conflict of life the first victory which every one should seek to achieve is the victory over himself. Unless he gain this, he is not likely to gain others, or, if he gain them, to improve them aright; but if, on the ether hand, he gain it, he is thereby prepared to gain others, and to follow them up with the greatest advantage. Such a victory was David's.
1. He arrived at the wagon rampart when the host was about to make an advance; leaving there the things he carried, he ran into the ranks to seek his brethren; and, while talking with them, there stalked forth, as on previous days, the Philistine champion, at the sight of whom "all the men of Israel fled, and were sore afraid" (ver. 24). The shepherd youth alone was fearless. There was in him more faith than in the whole army. And in conversing with the men around him he intimated the possible overthrow of this boastful giant, and the "taking away of the reproach from Israel," and expressed his amazement at the audacity of the man in "defying the ranks of the living God" (whose presence and power all appear to have forgotten).
2. On hearing his words, and probably surmising that he entertained the thought of encountering the champion, Eliab was filled with envy and anger, and reproached him as being out of his proper place, as only fit to have the charge of a few sheep, and even neglectful of them, and as proud, discontented with his calling, bad-hearted, and delighting in the sight of strife and bloodshed, which, he said, he knew, however others might be deceived. Ah, how little did he really know of his brother's heart! But angry men are more desirous of inflicting pain than of uttering the truth.
3. This language would have excited the fierce wrath of most persons. But David maintained his self-control, and gave the soft answer which "turneth away wrath." He thus obtained a victory which was hardly less noble than that which he shortly afterwards obtained over Goliath. Consider his self-conquest (with respect to the passion of anger) as -
I. ACHIEVED UNDER SEVERE PROVOCATION.
1. The contemptuous reproach of a brother. From him at least better things might have been expected. But natural affection often vanishes before envy and anger (Genesis 4:8), and is transformed into intense hatred. "There is no enemy so ready or so spiteful as the domestical" (Hall).
2. An ungrateful return for kindness. David had come with valuable presents and kindly inquiries, and this was his reward.
3. An unjust impugning of motives. "Eliab sought for the splinter in his brother's eye, and was not aware of the beam that was in his own; the very things with which he charged his brother were most apparent in his own scornful reproach" (Keil).
4. An open attack upon reputation. His words were intended to damage David in the eyes of others, as unworthy of their confidence and regard. All these things were calculated to exasperate. "Thus David was envied of his own brethren, herein being a type of Christ, who was rejected of the Jews, being as it were the eldest brethren, and was received of the Gentiles" (Wilier). The followers of Christ are often exposed to similar provocation. "And the strength of a good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more than in steadfastly maintaining the holy calm, meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behaviour, and surprising acts and events of this evil and unreasonable world (J. Edwards).
II. EXHIBITING AN ADMIRABLE SPIRIT.
1. Extraordinary meekness and forbearance in enduring reproach. "He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding," etc. (Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 25:28).
2. Firm and instant repression of angry passion. For it could hardly be but that a flash of indignation should glance into his breast; but "anger resteth in the bosom of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
3. Wise and gentle reserve in the language employed. It is as useless to reason with the wind as with an angry man. "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth," etc. (Psalm 141:3).
4. Continued and steadfast adherence to a noble purpose. David went on talking. after the same manner" (ver. 30). We ought not to suffer ourselves to be turned from the path of duty by the reproach which we may meet therein, but we should rather pursue it more diligently than ever, and prove by our conduct the sincerity and rectitude of our spirit. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Proverbs 16:32). "It is better to conquer the deceitful lusts of the heart than to conquer Jerusalem" (St. Bernard).
"The bravest trophy ever man obtained
Is that which o'er himself, himself hath gained." When thou art offended by others, do not let thy mind dwell upon them, or on such thoughts as these: - that they ought not so to have treated thee; who they are; or whom they think themselves to be, and the like; for all this is fuel, and a kindling of anger, wrath, and hatred. But in such eases turn instantly to the strength and commands of God, that thou mayest know what thou oughtest to do, and that thine error be not greater than theirs. So shalt thou return into the way of peace (Scupoli). And of this spirit Christ is the supreme pattern (1 Peter 2:21-23).
III. FOLLOWED BY A BENEFICIAL EFFECT.
1. A sense of peace and Divine approbation. "Angels came and ministered unto him" (Matthew 4:11). It is always thus with those who conquer temptation.
2. The purifying and strengthening of faith, by means of the trial to which it is subjected (1 Peter 1:7; James 1:2).
3. The commendation of character in the sight of others, who commonly judge of the truth of an accusation by the manner in which it is met, and naturally confide in a man of calmness, firmness, and lofty purpose. "They rehearsed them" (his words) "before Saul: and he sent for him" (ver. 31).
4. The preparation of the spirit for subsequent conflict. "Could the second victory have been achieved if he had failed in the first conflict? His combat with Goliath demanded an undimmed eye, a steady arm, and a calm heart, and if he had given way to stormy passion for only a brief season there would have been a lingering feverishness and nervousness, utterly unfitting him for the dread struggle on which the fate of two armies and two nations was depending" (C. Vince). - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.