1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 32-49, 18:1-16
I decided today to preach on the story of my biblical namesake. That might seem self-indulgent (and maybe it is), but I really decided to do it because David is one of the most important and frequently-mentioned characters in the Bible, and I don’t think that most of us have any idea about how his story goes.
Like so many great stories, the story of King David is about friends, about fathers and sons, about unexpected twists and turns, and about legacy. Of course, we probably know, at least vaguely, how it starts. It starts with the text that I preached two weeks ago – when the prophet Samuel gets complaints that the people want a king. He says, “Fine, fine, alright already, sheesh,” and anoints God’s chosen, a man named Saul. Saul serves as King, but does a pretty terrible job, so God fires him and has Samuel anoint someone else. He’s sent to this little village of Bethlehem to find Jesse and anoint one of his sons – but none of them is the right one. So Saul says, “Are you sure these are all of your kids?” to which Jesse replies, “Well, the runt is outside, but he’s so young and he’s watching the sheep, so I figured we didn’t need him.”
Of course, that boy, the youngest, was David. He gets anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king. That’s a little awkward, you see, because the current king is still sitting on the throne! Samuel doesn’t let that bother him, and (somehow) this doesn’t go to David’s head. David even weasels his way into a job as King Saul’s court musician, playing music on his harp for Saul when he gets upset.
The next phase in the adventure is what we read about in our passage today – at least, the first part of it. That would be the infamous fight with Goliath. If ever there was a story for kids in the Bible, it’s this one. A full-grown man who’s ten feet tall and has been a warrior since he was a child comes out and taunts the entire army, as well as pokes fun at God. David, simply there to give his brothers (who are fighting) their lunch, hears the insults, decides he can’t take it, and tells King Saul he’s going to fight. Saul, in spite of it being crazy to let a kid go out and fight a giant, lets him. David reasons that, since he’s fought off lions and wolves and bears while tending sheep, can knock out a regular ol’ human – even if that human is huge.
So Saul gives David his armor, but (of course) it doesn’t fit and it feels to awkward. The shield is too tall, the sword too heavy, the armor too bulky and the helmet too roomy. So he strips it all off to go fight with five smooth pebbles and a homemade sling. Goliath then taunts a child (showing again just how rotten of a guy Goliath is), and David professes faith in God. Then David promises to cut off Goliath’s head when he wins – and, lo and behold, after using only one of his five stones, David kills Goliath, cuts off his head, and the Philistine armies run away.
Of course, David is a hero. Saul’s happy, because David won a battle against this intractable enemy. David becomes cozy with the family – so much so that David becomes closer-than-brothers with Jonathan, Saul’s son. Saul gives young David a job as an army commander, and everywhere David goes, he succeeds. Everything’s great. Until one day…
One day, Saul hears the song being sung by the people celebrating the victory over Goliath and the Philistines. “Saul has killed his thousands,” they sing, “And David his tens of thousands.”
At this song, Saul becomes livid. David is getting all the credit, while Saul is the king! Saul’s jealous rages, and he actually tries to kill David by throwing a spear at him while David, still Saul’s musician, plays music for him. It’s a pretty huge betrayal on Saul’s part. He decides that if he can’t get all the credit, it’s not fair. He’s like the whiny kid no one wanted to play with.
And David has to spend years on the run. He marries Saul’s daughter Michal, is best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan, is Saul’s closest confidant as the only one who can calm him down… and all the while, he has to watch his back, because Saul is trying desperately to kill him. To say the least, it’s a strange dynamic.
I hope this doesn’t spoil the end of the story for anyone, but eventually, Saul dies. David becomes king over all Israel, and the story has, at least for a time, a happy ending for him. But there’s that whole middle section where the man who is his best friend’s dad, his father-in-law, and his boss is trying to kill him.
David’s story is so fascinating because it really hits home on the realities of life. I don’t mean to say that David’s story is relatable, because on one level, it’s definitely not. Nobody has a life like that! Even child celebrities, which are about as close as anyone could get to an equivalent of what happened with David as a child, do not have stories that resembles his. But what is relatable is that David goes through a lot of ups and downs.
He wasn’t the most loved by his father, certainly. He was the youngest son, and hence the least valuable. But he was handsome (and that never hurts in life). He had talent at keeping the sheep, but he didn’t really have friends other than his brothers until he met Jonathan. He was a good musician. His boss liked him, but then also tried to get rid of him. His childhood was a mixed bag, like all of ours.
As he got older, he had moments of success – but while each moment of success was much rejoicing by some, others (including Saul, obviously) were greatly perturbed each time something went well for him. He developed a fiercely loyal pack of friends, and a good-size group of people who didn’t care for him too much. Like all of us, his life was inside-out, upside-down, and back-and-forth.
To me, David’s story is one of the best in the Bible because it’s among the most complete. There are few other characters you get to see who have as many successes and as many failures. He messes up, his kids mess up, he does well, his kids do well. He has a very “real” life – or as “real” as a life extraordinary as his can ever seem.
But what can that possibly mean for us? On the one hand, after what I’ve explained to you, I hope it’s easy to see how David’s story is relatable, and that’s great. It makes the Bible feel more real, and that’s fun and nice and everything. But at the end of the day, this is a story about a guy who became king, who killed a giant with a rock as a boy. His story will always have some distance for us, because it’s so unlike our own. So while identifying with a character is nice, what does it mean? What can God possibly be saying to us?
Well, to me, like so many of the stories of the Bible, this one is about God selecting someone to do special work. We pastors love to talk about how God, over and over, chooses the least likely people – Abraham and Sarah, the elderly, barren couple living in the desert become the parents of a nation; Jacob, the jerky younger son is the father of 12 tribes; Moses the stuttering murderer leads a his whole people; Mary, the unmarried, wealthless girl is the mother of the Savior of the world, and God in human form; Paul, the persecutor of Christians, becomes the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen – and turns them into those who are called for God’s special tasks. I’ve preached that before; I’ll preach it again.
But let me let you in on the dirty little secret of that message: God chooses the least likely because there are no most likely. Everyone has their faults. Everyone is unlikely to do God’s work. Even Jesus, who has a big leg up, after all – being the Son of God and whatnot – is, when you think about it, a poor kid from a “questionable” family with no formal training who hung out with the least respected members of society. That’s the guy who came to save the world!
And that leads to the most important thing we can glean from David’s story: you are called, too. You, just like David, just like Ruth, just like Esther, just like Isaac, just like Isaiah, just like every character in the Bible, are the unlikely one. You live in Marion, SD. You’re just a regular person from a regular family – and that’s the best case scenario. You’ve led a life with ups and downs, and you want to do your best to serve God. The thing is, that’s what all these people were like. Their stories are recorded in Scripture, but God is calling all of us to live a life worthy of being recorded in Scripture. And for some, like David, living into that call begins in childhood; for others, like Abraham and Sarah, that giving of your life to God occurs late in life. But no matter who you are or where you are, take some time to figure out what “unlikely” thing God is calling you into.
The Bible is not just a big book of rules for us to follow; it’s a big book filled with stories that are, on the one hand, very different from our own. But those stories are, in another way, very much like ours.
David’s story is a fun one. It’s one of those stories in the Bible that you can actually understand people enjoying just as pleasure reading, whereas so much of the other stuff can sometimes seem so boring. But beyond entertainment, there is a lesson here, and that lesson is about who God calls. God calls even those who don’t seem like they would be called, because God calls everyone. That’s how God works.
So go out and be a David. Like all the characters in the Bible, don’t let who you are be an excuse for not living into the fullness of God. There has never been a likely servant of God – so be an unlikely one. Pray to God, and ask what you’re being called to do. The answer may surprise you; and if that answer is surprising… well… don’t be surprised! Amen.