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ADVANCE OF DAVID IN REPUTATION BY THE SLAUGHTER OF GOLIATH (1 Samuel 17:1-58.).
GOLIATH'S DEFIANCE OF ISRAEL (1 Samuel 17:1-11).
1 Samuel 17:1
The Philistines gathered together their armies. As the object of the historian is not to give us an account of the Philistine wars, but only to record the manner of David's ripening for the kingly office, nothing is said as to the space of time which had elapsed between Saul's victory at Michmash and the present invasion. We are, however, briefly told that "there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul" (1 Samuel 14:52), and apparently this inroad took place very many years after Saul's establishment upon the throne. The Philistine camp was at Ephes-dammim, called Pas-dammim in 1 Chronicles 11:13. The best explanation of the word gives as its meaning the boundary of blood, so called from the continual fighting which took place there upon the borders. Shochoh, spelt more correctly Socoh in Joshua 15:35, was one of fourteen villages enumerated there as lying in the Shephelah, described by Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:156) as a region of "low hills of limestone, frowning a distinct district between the plain and the watershed mountains.'' In this district Socoh lay northeast of Eleutheropolis (Beth-jibrin), midway between it and Beth-shemesh, from each of which places it was distant about eight or nine miles. It is now called Shuweikeh. For Azekah see Joshua 10:10.
1 Samuel 17:2, 1 Samuel 17:3
The valley of Elah. I.e. of the terebinth tree. A valley between them. Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:160) describes the spot from personal observation thus: "Saul, coming down by the highway from the land of Benjamin, encamped by the valley on one of the low hills; and between the two hosts was the gai or ravine." In the A.V. no exactness of rendering is ever attempted, and both the emek, the broad strath or valley of Elah, with gently sloping sides, and the flag, the narrow, precipitous ravine, are equally rendered valley. Really the gai is most remarkable, and fully explains how the two hosts could remain in face of one another so long without fighting; for Conder proceeds, "Two points require to be made clear as to the episode of David's battle with Goliath: one was the meaning of the expression gai or ravine; the other was the source whence David took the 'smooth stones.' A visit to the spot explains both. In the middle of the broad, open valley we found a deep trench with vertical sides, impassable except at certain places—a valley in a valley, and a natural barrier between the two hosts. The sides and bed of this trench are strewn with rounded and waterworn pebbles, which would have been well fitted for David's sling. Here, then, we may picture to ourselves the two hosts, covering the low, rocky hills opposite to each other, and half hidden among the lentisk bushes. Between them was the rich expanse of ripening barley, and the red banks of the torrent, with its white, shingly bed. Behind all were the distant blue hill walls of Judah, whence Saul had just come down. The mail clad champion advanced from the west through the low corn, with his mighty lance perhaps tufted with feathers, his brazen helmet shining in the sun. From the east a ruddy boy in his white shirt and sandals, armed with a goat's hair sling, came down to the brook, and, according to the poetic fancy of the Rabbis, the pebbles were given voices, and cried, 'By us shalt thou overcome the giant.' The champion fell from an unseen cause, and the wild Philistines fled to the mouth of the valley, where Gath stood towering on its white chalk cliff, a frontier fortress, the key to the high road leading to the corn lands of Judah and to the vineyards of Hebron."
1 Samuel 17:4-7
A champion. Literally, "a man of the two middles," i.e. one who enters the space between the two armies in order to decide the contest by a single combat. Of Gath. In Joshua 11:21 this town is mentioned, together with Gaza and Ashdod, as still having among its inhabitants men of the race of Anak. Whose height was six cubits and a span. In our measure his height was eight feet five and one-third inches; for the cubit is sixteen inches, and the span (really the hand-breadth) is five and one-third inches. A span, sit, is eight inches, but the word used here is zereth. See on these measures, Conder, 'Handbook,' p. 79. This height, though very great, has been attained to in modern times. Armed with a coat of mail. Literally, "clothed in a shirt of scales," i.e. a corselet made of metal scales sewn on cloth so as to overlap one another. It was flexible, and protected the back and sides as well as the kent. Five thousand shekels of brass. Really copper, as brass was then unknown. Conder gives the shekel as equal to two-thirds of an ounce. This would make the corselet weigh at least two hundred weight, an enormous load to carry even for a short time. Goliath's other equipments correspond in heaviness, and largely exceed the weight of medieval suits of armour. Greaves of brass upon his legs. The thighs were protected by the corselet, so that only the legs required defensive armour. This would account for the weight of the corselet, as it was much longer than the cuirass, as worn by the Greeks and Romans. A target. Really, "a javelin." It was carried at the back, ready to be taken in the hand and thrown at the enemy when required. The versions have a different reading—magan, shield, for chidon, javelin. The shield was carried before him by an armour bearer. The staff. The written text has a word which usually signifies shaft, arrow, for which the Kri substitutes wood, the noun actually found in 2 Samuel 21:19; 1 Chronicles 20:5; but most probably the word used here is an archaic name for the handle or staff of a spear. Six hundred shekels. The weight of the iron head of the spear would be about twenty-five pounds. However tall and strong Goliath may have been, yet with all this vast weight of metal his movements must have been slow and unready. He was got up, in bet, more to tell upon the imagination than for real fighting, and though, like a castle, he might have been invincible if attacked with sword and spear, he was much too encumbered with defensive armour to be capable of assuming the offensive against a light armed enemy. To David belongs the credit of seeing that the Philistine champion was a huge imposition.
1 Samuel 17:8-11
He stood and cried unto the armies. Literally, "the ranks," the word being the noun formed from the verb translated set in array, just below. The same word is used throughout (see 1Sa 17:10, 1 Samuel 17:20, 1 Samuel 17:21, 1Sa 17:22, 1 Samuel 17:26, 1 Samuel 17:45). Am not I a Philistine? Hebrew, "the Philistine," the champion on their side. I defy the armies. Hebrew, "I have cast scorn or insult upon the ranks of Israel this day." The sense is not so much that he defied them as that they were dishonoured by not accepting his challenge. They were dismayed. That is, terrified, and made uncertain what to do (comp. Jer 1:1-19 :36). We have seen from Mr. Condor's account that each army held an impregnable position on the two sides of the ravine, which neither could cross without the certainty of being defeated in the attempt by the other side. Under such circumstances there seemed no way of deciding the contest except by a single combat. But though Saul and his warriors were too terrified at Goliath's appearance to venture to meet him, still they held their ground for forty days, inasmuch as it was evidently impossible for him to cross the ravine clad in such cumbrous armour, nor did the Philistines venture to make the attempt, us the Israelites would have taken them at a manifest disadvantage.
DAVID'S VISIT TO THE CAMP (1 Samuel 17:12-31). The Vatican codex of the Septuagint omits the whole of this section, and it was inserted in the Alexandrian copy by Origen. It is found, however, in the other versions; and possibly this treatment of David's history as of a person unknown, just after the account given of him in 1 Samuel 16:1-23; did not seem so strange to readers in old time as it does to us, with whom reading is so much more easy an accomplishment. It is, nevertheless, one of the many indications that the Books of Samuel, though compiled from contemporaneous documents, were not arranged in their present form till long afterwards. It was only gradually that Samuel's schools dispersed throughout the country men trained in reading and writing, and trained up scholars capable of keeping the annals of each king's reign. The Books of Kings were, as we know, compiled from these annals; but probably at each prophetic school there would be stored up copies of Psalms written for their religious services, ballads such as those in the Book of Jashar, and in the Book of the Wars of Jehovah, narratives of stirring events like this before us, and histories both of their own chiefs, such as was Samuel, and afterwards Elijah and Elisha, and also of the kings. There is nothing remarkable, therefore, at finding information repeated; and having had in the previous narrative an account of a passing introduction of David to Saul as a musician, which led to little at the time, though subsequently David stood high in Saul's favour because of his skill upon the harp, we here have David's introduction to Saul as a warrior.
1 Samuel 17:12-14
Jesse … went among men for an old man in the days of Saul. This translation is taken from the Vulgate; but the Hebrew is, "And the man in the days of Saul was old, gone among men." Some explain this as meaning "placed," i.e. "reckoned among men of rank;" but probably an aleph has dropped out in the word rendered men, and we should read "gone," i.e. "advanced in years." Old is used in a very indefinite way in the Books of Samuel; but as Jesse had eight sons, of whom the youngest was now grown up, he must have been nearly sixty. Went and followed. Hebrew, "And there went the three elder sons of Jesse went after Saul to the war." Some grammarians consider that this repetition of the verb is intended to give it the force of a pluperfect,—they had gone,—but it is more probably an error, and one of the two verbs should be omitted.
1 Samuel 17:15
David went and returned from Saul. This is a very important statement, as it shows that the writer, in spite of what is said in 1 Samuel 17:55-58, knew that David had visited Saul at his court, and become personally known to him. Apparently it had been but a short visit, possibly because after the fit of melancholy had passed away there was no return of it for the present; and if David had been back at Bethlehem for two or three years, a young man changes so much in appearance at David's time of life that it is no wonder that neither Saul nor Abner recognised him in his shepherd's dress. For some reason, then, or other David had not remained with Saul at Gibeah, but had resumed his pastoral life at Bethlehem, and the statements made in 1 Samuel 16:21-23 belong to the time immediately after the combat with Goliath, and not before.
1 Samuel 17:16-19
The Philistine .... presented himself. I.e. took his stand (see on 1 Samuel 10:23; 1 Samuel 12:7, 1 Samuel 12:16). This verse takes up the narrative, disturbed by the inserted explanation about David's family relations. The extraordinary formation of the ground, as described in 1 Samuel 17:3, shows how it was possible for this challenge to go on for forty days without either army advancing or retiring. During this long time it seems to have been the business of the friends at home to supply the combatants with food, and so Jesse sends David with an ephah, about three pecks, of parched corn—as the word is spelt in the Hebrew it means "parched pease." Also ten loaves, and, for the captain of their thousand, ten cheeses—rather, "ten slices of fresh curd." David was also to take their pledge. Apparently neither Eliab nor his brethren could write, and therefore they would send back to their father some token previously agreed upon to show that they were in good health, and had received the supplies sent them. Now Saul, etc. This is a part of Jesse's speech, telling David where he would find his brethren. For were, the right translation is, "They are in the terebinth valley, fighting with the Philistines."
1 Samuel 17:1-11
Aggression not defence.
The facts are—
1. The armies of Israel and Philistia are drawn up in array, with a valley between them.
2. A gigantic champion, heavily armed and proud of his strength, challenges any one of Saul's army to a personal encounter, and with lofty words defies the armies of Israel.
3. Saul and his men are in great fear. The episode given by the sacred writer is one of those occurrences likely to arise under the conditions of ancient warfare. It must be viewed by us as one of the events which Providence overruled for the gradual introduction of David to the notice of Israel. But in this section we may confine attention to truths not immediately affecting him.
I. We have here AN EXHIBITION OF THE WAR SPIRIT. This giant was under the influence of a mere love of fighting. It was not a question of rightness or wrongness, but of slaying or being slain. The modicum of patriotism was overlaid by the lust of contention. This passion dwells more or less in all men. Its mildest form is a contentious spirit—a quarrelsome temper, a desire to try our strength against others. It has found wide and pernicious scope in the history of nations. There is a tendency to foster this unhallowed spirit even in civilised, so called Christian countries. The profession of soldier, the pomp of military parade, the zest with which battles are described, the haze of glory thrown around the unutterable horrors of war, and rivalry among men for distinction in action—all show that the war spirit is fostered. Is it not true that a mere desire to find actual occupation in fighting determines the first choice of multitudes in entering on warlike enterprises? The evils of this spirit are patent. In itself it is a debasement of our nature. The God of peace and love is our Father, and we are to be his children in the spirit that governs us. The execution of law and right is a totally different thing. The woes it has brought on the world, in deaths, widows, orphans, poverty, desolations, debts, suspicions, and engendered vices, can never be told. It is the duty of every Christian to strive to crush it out, by careful training of the young, by discouragement of popular passions, by enforcement of the teaching and Spirit of Christ, and by earnest prayer that the Church may be firm in protest against it.
II. We have also AN EXHIBITION OF PRIDE IN HUMAN STRENGTH. This giant thought himself mighty, and he boasted in his strength. Boastfulness in any form is disgraceful. Man is not in a position to magnify himself on any possession, for it is as a shadow, and may quickly vanish. Pride in mere physical strength is the lowest form of boasting, save that in actual vice. A quick, bright, intelligent mind is of more account than height of stature and strength of limb. Yet self-satisfaction in intellectual qualities and powers is evidence of a moral weakness which renders man inferior in the higher realms of life. We have need to learn that man at his best estate is vanity; that it is not by might nor by power that the highest achievements are wrought in the spiritual sphere.
III. We have also A REVERSION OF THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS. The natural order is that which follows from the normal constitution and relations of things. By appointment Israel were the possessors of the land. The promise had read thus: Be true and obedient, and ye shall possess the land in peace, and be exalted above all nations (Deuteronomy 28:1-13). Had the conditions been faithfully observed, God long ere the days of David would have subdued their enemies (Psalms 81:13-16). Or, had new enemies trespassed on their borders, Israel would have assailed in confidence, and not be assailed in great fear. Aggression on the foes of God and man is the work of God's people; there is a reversion of the natural order when they are barely able to hold their own, and tremble at the aggressive onslaughts of the foe. The attitude and work of the Church in relation to the manifold forms of evil in the world is not inaptly indicated in Israel's original relation to the abominable nations that once held and begirt the promised land—namely, aggression till the earth is subdued to Christ. If there are defiant systems assailing the Church of God and making inroads upon her, it is because she has been unfaithful in her aggressive work. If we do not make aggression on the domain of sin, the forces of evil will gain power and make positive aggression on the domain of religion. Vices of all kinds, and infidelity in brazen forms, flourish and become more than defensive in action when Christians lose faith in their mission and sink to the level of other men. Not even the vilest of men nor the hardiest unbeliever will venture to assail a pure and very devoted spiritual life.
1. The Christian Church should consider how much of the prevalence of the war spirit is due to her imperfect treatment of the natural tendency to it.
2. Those who despise the low type of life which glories in mere brute force should remember that, from the higher spiritual sphere, glorying in any mere human possession may be regarded in the same light.
3. The earnest cultivation of spiritual life will be proved by the aggression which, as individuals, we make on our besetting sins, and, as communities, on the sins of the world.
1 Samuel 17:12-19
Cooperation in spiritual warfare.
The facts are—
1. Three of Jesse's sons are with the army opposing the Philistines.
2. David, being relieved from attendance on Saul, keeps the flock at Bethlehem.
3. Jesse sends David to the camp with provisions, and instructs him to look after the welfare of his brethren. It is possible that Jesse may have surmised that some considerable developments would soon arise out of Samuel's recent visit to Bethlehem and the wonderful interest taken in young David. At all events, it was providential that he sent him from caring for sheep to care for his brethren on the battlefield. Leaving out of view the moral condition of Israel and its consequences, as dwelt on in the last section, we may regard the army of Saul as being engaged in the service of the living God (1 Samuel 17:26, 1 Samuel 17:36), virtually against the foes of the kingdom of the Messiah. David's visit to the army with provisions and messages relating to the welfare of his soldier brothers, therefore, brings out the relation that should subsist between those engaged in open conflict in the service of God and such as are not called to serve in that form.
I. The EXIGENCIES OF THE CHURCH REQUIRE SOME TO BE SPECIALLY ENGAGED IN OPEN CONFLICT WITH SIN. The circumstances of Israel necessitated just then that some of God's people should devote themselves to the campaign as soldiers. Combination under the guidance of skill would effect what isolated private effort could not touch. In the Christian economy every true follower of Christ is a soldier, following the lead of the Captain of our salvation. Nevertheless, the circumstances in which Christians find themselves demand that some should be more emphatically fighting men, to undertake, in combination with others, arduous work which can never be done by Christians in a private and isolated capacity. Hence we have men, separated from various occupations, consecrating all their time and energies not merely in defence of the gospel, but in making war upon the manifold evils which obstruct the triumph of Christ. These sustain a relation to others, whose time is otherwise employed on purely personal pursuits, similar to that of the army at Elah to the Jesses and Davids engaged in domestic and rural occupations.
II. The CONFLICT THUS OPENLY MAINTAINED INVOLVES THE INTERESTS AND CLAIMS THE SUPPORT OF ALL. Obviously every one in Israel was concerned in the issue of the conflict with the Philistines. All that free people hold precious was at stake. If it was in the power of noncombatants to render aid, clearly it ought to be forthcoming. In a higher and wider sense is it true that the business of Christ's soldiers at home and abroad is the business of the entire body of believers, irrespective of age, position, or ability. The Church is one body, and the sufferings or pleasures of one member are of moment to all the members. The feeling which suggests that certain efforts to save men are no concern but to those engaged in them is unintelligent and unchristian. The call to hold forth the word of truth is to the one body of the faithful. Our sympathy with Christ's mission is real only as we identify our hopes, and aspirations, and endeavours with those of all who have the "same mind." Consequently, every consideration of humanity, of brotherly regard, of love for Christ, and joy in his advancing conquests, should stimulate aid to those on the high places of the field.
III. THERE ARE AVAILABLE MEANS BY WHICH EVERY ONE MAY RENDER SUBSTANTIAL AID IN THIS WARFARE. Jesse's forethought and David's readiness contributed to the strength and encouragement of the absent warriors. Likewise every one in Israel could aid in the conflict by contributions of food and clothing, and by cherished sympathy and prayer. In modern nations every member of the community renders assistance in war, by payment of taxes, combination of counsel, deep and variously expressed sympathy, and that quota from each one which makes up the sum of support to be found in public opinion. The means by which the scattered members of Christ's Church can fulfil their duty to their brethren devoted entirely to the campaign against sin are varied and effective.
1. By loyally bearing the common cause on the heart. This may become a habit if we will but make an intelligent study of what is due from us. Its value to the distant and near soldiers of the cross is clear to the spiritual eye. Moral natures are knit together by subtle bonds.
2. By special acts and seasons of prayer. Emphasis given to our general sympathy by special pleading with God on behalf of his faithful servants is the all-powerful means of taking our share in the one great conflict. Even the greatest of apostles felt that he would do his work better if friends would but respond to his appeal, "Brethren, pray for us." This is an aid which may be rendered by young and old, hale and weak, the rich and poor. Only eternity will reveal how much, among the many concurring causes that issue at last in the full triumph of Christ, is due to the prayers even of the helpless invalids, and poor, unheard of saints that dwell in cottage homes.
3. Moral and material support. We may seize opportunities for assuring our brethren, whose hearts are often faint and weary, that we do carry their cares and sorrows, and do regard their work as ours. We rob devoted men of strength when we are chary of letting them know our deep interest in them. The material support is also within the reach of most. To devote a portion of our means to Christ's cause is a great privilege. Had the Church devoted half on Christian enterprise that has been devoted to questionable self-indulgences, the joys of men and angels would ere this have been doubled.
1. We should encourage by example and personal influence in young people an intelligent interest in all Christian work because it is Christian.
2. Where true love exists, ingenuity will devise means of cheering those engaged in arduous service.
3. The spiritual unity of the Church may thus be largely realised, notwithstanding diversity of organisations.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 17:1-11. (THE VALLEY OF ELAH.)
Israel smitten with fear.
"They were dismayed, and greatly afraid" (1 Samuel 17:11).
1. The renewed attempt of the Philistines to subjugate Israel shows, in comparison with their former invasion, a decrease of power. They did not penetrate into the heart of the land (1 Samuel 13:5), but advanced only a short distance from their own border, and "pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim," a dozen miles southwest of Bethlehem. They had been driven back and held in check.
2. It could hardly have been possible, but for the rashness of Saul in "the war of Michmash," by which the opportunity of inflicting a fatal blow was lost. Hearing, perhaps, of his condition, and perceiving signs of the laxity of his rule, they sought to repair their defeat.
3. It found the people of Israel, notwithstanding their previous success, ill-prepared to repel the aggression. Although they went to meet the enemy, and encamped opposite to them, they did nothing more. In the spirit of a better time they would have immediately fallen upon them in reliance upon "the Lord of hosts" (Deuteronomy 32:30); but now they were paralysed with fear, especially at the appearance of the gigantic champion who came out against them. The Philistines desired to make the issue depend on a single combat between this man and any Israelitish warrior who might be appointed to meet him; and he "drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days" (1 Samuel 17:16). A similar fear has sometimes pervaded the Christian community in the presence of the enemy.
I. IT IS INSPIRED BY FORMIDABLE OPPONENTS.
1. Their number is great. They consist not merely of one or two, 'but of a host of giants.
(1) Within: carnal affections, corrupt tendencies, proud thoughts, evil imaginations, and wrathful passions.
(2) Without: ignorance, error, unbelief, superstition, intemperance, licentiousness, worldliness, and "all ungodliness."
(3) In the background of all "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2).
2. Their appearance is imposing. They seem to be possessed of extraordinary might, and arrayed in terrible armour, and are of great renown. "Am I not that Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:8), who has exhibited such prowess and slain so many foes? "He arose, and came, and drew nigh, like a stalking mountain, overlaid with brass and iron" (M. Henry).
3. Their attitude is proud, boastful, defiant, contemptuous, and increasingly confident of victory as day after day the challenge is renewed, and no one dares to answer it. "The first challenge to a duel that we ever find came out of the mouth of an uncircumcised Philistine" (Hall). How often has the contemplation of such adversaries filled even good men with dismay! While we measure our natural strength against the forces of evil our case is hopeless. "Who is sufficient for these things?"
II. IT RESULTS PROM PREVIOUS UNFAITHFULNESS.
1. Distrust of God and alienation from him. Faith prevents fear. It looks to God, judges of the power of the enemy in the light of his omnipotence, unites to him, and inspires with unbounded courage (1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 14:47); but unbelief is blind and weak and fearful (Matthew 8:26). And dismay in great emergencies reveals the absence or feebleness of faith in the preceding and ordinary course of life.
2. Outward acts of disobedience to the Divine will diminishing moral power, and producing inward distraction and dread.
3. Sympathy with a faithless leader, and participation in the "spirit of fear" (2 Timothy 1:7) which he possesses. Saul had forsaken the Lord. He had not the presence of Samuel with him; nor, apparently, that of the high priest; nor did he seek the Divine counsel as aforetime. He ruled independently of Jehovah; and the people loved too much "to have it so," sharing in his faithlessness and fear. A faithless and fearful leader cannot have faithful and fearless followers.
III. IT INCURS DESERVED REPROACH (1 Samuel 17:8, 1 Samuel 17:26)—uttered by the enemy, and echoed in the conscience of the people, on account of—
1. The cowardice of their conduct.
2. The inconsistency of their position, as professed servants of the living God: unfaithful to their calling, trembling before the votaries of "gods that were no gods" (1 Samuel 17:44), and bringing dishonour upon the name of Jehovah. "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you" (Romans 2:24; Proverbs 25:26).
3. The likelihood of their defeat, of which it is a virtual acknowledgment, and to which it must infallibly conduct, unless a better spirit be infused into them. "How is it that ye have not faith?" (Mark 4:40).
1. The spirit of fear can be expelled only by the spirit of faith.
2. Fearfulness in conflict, difficulty, and danger indicates a lack of faith, and should constrain to renewed trust in God.
3. In their greatest extremity God does not abandon his people to despair, but provides for them "a way of escape."—D.
1 Samuel 17:17, 1 Samuel 17:18. (BETHLEHEM.)
Family life occupies a prominent place in the Books of Samuel, and the affectionate concern of parents for their children is often mentioned (see 1 Samuel 2:24; 1 Samuel 10:2). Jesse, who, in consequence of his advanced age (1 Samuel 17:12), was himself unable to go against the Philistines, had his three elder sons in the army of Israel; and after they had been absent for some weeks, sent their youngest brother with provisions for their need, to make inquiries about their welfare, and "take their token," by which he might be assured thereof. Such solicitude as he displayed is—
1. Arising out of the instinctive affection which is felt by parents.
2. Continuing throughout the whole of life.
3. Commended by the heavenly Father, who puts it into the heart; and often illustrated, directed, and regulated by the teachings of his word (Genesis 18:19; Genesis 22:2; 2 Samuel 18:33; Ephesians 6:4; 1 Timothy 5:8).
1. Of the distance of children from home, and of their deprivation of parental oversight, counsel, and restraint.
2. Of their need: temporal, spiritual, and eternal.
3. Of their peril: from their own tendencies, their intimate associations, and their open enemies.
III. PRACTICAL. Expressed—
1. In sending them presents of that which is best adapted to their wants.
2. By the hand of a brother (Genesis 37:14; Genesis 43:11).
3. With the request of a token of affectionate regard for the gratification of a heart that desires and seeks their happiness.
IV. ILLUSTRATIVE of "the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man" (Titus 2:4). The relation of an earthly father to his children is a shadow of that of the heavenly Father to men; it was doubtless appointed from the first to be such, and the loving care which arises out of it is, in comparison with that of the "Father of spirits," only as a ray of light compared with the sun. This also is—
1. Natural and spontaneous, for "God is love."
2. Considerate (Psalms 103:13, Psalms 103:14). "In thee the fatherless findeth mercy (Hosea 14:3).
3. Practical. "I have loved you, saith the Lord," etc. (Malachi 1:2; Matthew 7:11; John 3:16).
1. To parents. Let your kindness to your children be such as accords with that of your heavenly Father to you, and as affords a true image of it.
2. To children. Show kindness to your parents in return for their kindness to you (1 Samuel 22:3), as your heavenly Father requires.
3. To all. "If I be a father, where is mine honour?" (Malachi 1:6).—D.
1 Samuel 17:20-22
He came to the trench. More probably the barricade, or outer circle of defence for their camp, made of their wagons (see on 1 Samuel 10:22). Strictly the word means a wagon track, but the primary meaning of the verb is to be round. This was the shape of camps in old time, and they were protected against surprise by having the wagons and baggage placed round them. The word occurs again in 1 Samuel 26:5, 1 Samuel 26:7. The latter part of the verse is literally, "And he came to the circle of the wagons, and to the host that was going forth to the array; and they shouted for the battle." If the article be omitted before "going forth," for which there is some authority, the rendering of the A.V. would be right. David left his carriage. I.e. that which he was carrying. The word is rendered stuff in 1 Samuel 10:22; 1 Samuel 25:13; 1 Samuel 30:24. Literally the word means utensils, and so whatever he had with him for any purpose (comp. Acts 21:15). Ran into the army. Literally, "to the array," "to the ranks," the place where the troops were drawn up (see 1 Samuel 30:10).
1 Samuel 17:23, 1 Samuel 17:24
The champion, the Philistine of Oath, Goliath by name. The Hebrew is, "The champion (see on 1 Samuel 17:4), Goliath the Philistine his name, of Gath," probably the very words of the original record. Out of the armies, or ranks. This is a very probable correction of the Kri, made by restoring a letter which has apparently dropped out. The word in the written text might mean "the open space between the two armies;" but it occurs nowhere else, and this space was chiefly occupied by the ravine. The men of Israel … fled from him. I.e. they drew back in haste from the edge of the ravine, which Goliath could no more have crossed, encased in armour weighing two and a half hundred-weight, than a knight could have done in the middle ages. In 1 Samuel 17:40 we read that it was out of this ravine that David selected his pebbles, and, being encumbered with no armour, it was easy for him to climb up the other side and attack his heavily armed opponent.
1 Samuel 17:25-27
To defy Israel. Rather, "to cast scorn on," "to dishonour Israel" (see on 1 Samuel 17:10). The king will enrich him with great riches,... and make his father's house free in Israel. Many years must have elapsed before Saul could thus have developed the powers of the crown, and the last words show that contributions were levied from all the households in Israel for the support of the king and his retinue. There had manifestly been a great advance since the day when Jesse sent the king a few loaves of bread, a skin of wine, and a kid (1 Samuel 16:20). Still we cannot imagine that Saul had introduced taxes, nor was the political organisation of the State ripe enough for so advanced a state of things. The words more probably refer to freedom from personal service in the army and elsewhere; though it is quite possible that on special occasions contributions may have been levied, and presents, no doubt, were constantly being made to the king, though on no regular system. Taketh away the reproach. The noun formed from the verb rendered defy in 1 Samuel 17:10, where see note. Uncircumcised. See on 1 Samuel 14:6. David, like Jonathan, sees a ground of confidence in the uncovenanted relation of the Philistine towards God. The living God. A second ground of confidence. The god of the Philistines was a lifeless idol; Jehovah a Being who proved his existence by his acts. So shall it be done. As the people all answer David's inquiries in the same way, Saul had evidently made a proclamation to this effect, which we may suppose he fulfilled, though not in the frankest manner (1 Samuel 18:17, 1 Samuel 18:27).
1 Samuel 17:28, 1 Samuel 17:29
Eliab's anger was kindled against David. As David, with growing indignation at an uncovenanted heathen thus dishonouring the subjects of the living God, puts eager questions to all around, his ehier brother angrily reproaches him with words full of contempt. Between the eldest and youngest of eight sons was a vast interval, and Eliab regards David's talk as mere pride, or, rather, "presumption," "impertinence;" and also as naughtiness, or badness, of heart, probably because he imagined that David's object was to provoke some one else to fight, that he might see the battle. David's answer is gentle and forbearing, but the last words are difficult. Is there not a cause? Have not those whom we are ready to condemn a reason and justification for their conduct? Such a question put to ourselves might stop much slander and fault finding. But the Hebrew literally has, Is it not word? And the ancient versions and the best modern commentators understand by this, "It was but a mere word;" "I was only talking about this challenge, and was doing no wrong.
1 Samuel 17:30, 1 Samuel 17:31
Manner. Literally, word, the noun translated cause in 1 Samuel 17:29, and meaning in both verses "conversation." It occurs here thrice, the Hebrew being, "And he spake according to this word: and the people returned him a word according to the former word." And as David thus persisted in his indignant remonstrances at the ranks of the living God being thus dishonoured by no man accepting the challenge, they rehearsed them before Saul, who thereupon sent for him. And thus David a second time, and under very different circumstances, found himself again standing in the king's presence.
DAVID UNDERTAKES THE COMBAT WITH GOLIATH, AND PREPARES FOR THE ENCOUNTER (1 Samuel 17:32-40).
1 Samuel 17:32, 1 Samuel 17:33
On being brought before the king, David says, Let no man's heart fail because of him, i.e. "on account of this Philistine." Literally it is "upon him," and some therefore translate "within him." The Septuagint forman reads "my lord"—"Let not my lord's heart fail within him." Probably "within him" is the best rendering of the phrase. Thou art but a youth. I.e. "a lad" (see on 1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 2:18). It is the word applied to David's brethren in 1 Samuel 16:11, and his friend must have been very enthusiastic when, in 1 Samuel 16:18, he described him as a "hero of valour and a man of war."
1 Samuel 17:34-36
David does not appeal to any feat of arms. He may have served with credit in repelling some Philistine foray, but these combats with wild beasts, fought without the presence of spectators, and with no regent necessity (as most shepherds would have been too glad to compound with such enemies by letting them take a lamb without molestation), still more clearly proved David's fearless nature. Lions and bears were both common in ancient times in Palestine, when the country was more densely covered with wood; and bears are numerous in the mountainous districts now. Lions seem to have been less feared than bears (Amos 5:19); but Canon Tristram thinks there were two species of the lion in Palestine—one short-maned, which was not very formidable, the other long maned, which was more fierce and dangerous. The Hebrew literally is, "There came the lion and even the bear," the articles implying that they were the well known foes of the shepherd. The written text has zeh, "this," for seh, "a lamb," probably a mere variety of spelling. There can be little doubt that David refers to two different occasions, especially as bears and lions never hunt in company. By his beard. Neither the bear nor the lion has a beard, and the word really means "the chin," "the place where the beard grows." The Chaldee translates the lower jaw, and the Septuagint the throat. It is plain from this description that David slew the beast with his staff. He arose against me. This shows that the combat thus particularly described was with the bear, which does thus rise on its hind legs to grapple with its foe, while the lion crouches and then springs. Pliny also says that the weakest part of a bear is its head, and that it can be killed by a smart blow there. The manner in which David killed the lion is not described. Defied. See on 1 Samuel 17:10.
1 Samuel 17:37
Saul said unto David, Go. The king's consent was necessary before David could act as the champion of the Israelites. It was a courageous act in Saul to give his permission, considering the conditions of the combat (see 1 Samuel 17:9), but the two arguments here given persuaded him: the first, David's strong confidence in Jehovah, insuring his courage; and, secondly, the coolness and bravery he had shown in these dangerous encounters with savage animals.
1 Samuel 17:38-40
Saul armed David with his armour. Rather, "Saul clad David in his war dress." The word does not mean arms, either offensive or defensive; for in 1 Samuel 4:12, where it is rendered "clothes," we read of its being rent. It occurs again in 1 Samuel 18:4, and is there rendered "garments.'' Strictly it was the soldier's coat, worn under his armour, and girt close to the body by the sword belt. It does not follow that David was as tall as Saul because he thus put on his military coat; for it would be adjusted to the body by the belt, and its length was not a matter of much consequence. When, then, it is said that David girded his sword upon his armour, it means upon this coat, though the corselet of mail would also be worn over it. He assayed to go. I.e. he made an attempt at going, took a short walk thus arrayed, making trial all the while of his equipments; and he found them so cumbrous that he felt that he would have no chance against the Philistine except as a light-armed soldier. The agility of his movements would then make him a match for one so heavily overweighted as Goliath. Wearing, therefore, only his shepherd's dress, armed only with a sling, David descended into the ravine which separated the two armies, chose there five pebbles, and, clambering up the other side, advanced towards the Philistine. For brook the Hebrew has "torrent bed." Condor speaks of a torrent flowing through the ravine (see on 1 Samuel 18:2).
COMBAT OF DAVID AND GOLIATH (verses 41-54).
1 Samuel 17:41-44
When David had crossed the ravine, Goliath and his armour bearer advanced towards him; and when he saw that the Israelite champion was but a lad (see 1 Samuel 17:33), with red hair, which added to his youthful appearance, and handsome, but with nothing more than a staff in his hand, he regarded this light equipment as an insult, and asks, Am I a dog,—an animal held in great aversion in the East,—that thou comest to me with staves? The plural is used as a contemptuous generalisation, but the Septuagint is offended at it, and with amusing matter of fact exactness translates, "With a staff and stones." And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Hebrew is singular, "by his god," i.e. the deity whom he had selected to be his especial patron.
1 Samuel 17:45-47
And with a shield. Really, "a javelin" (see on 1 Samuel 17:6). David of course menitions only his arms of offence. As Goliath had reviled David by his god, so David now expresses his trust in the God of Israel, even Jehovah of hosts, whom the Philistine was dishonouring. This day. I.e. immediately (see 1 Samuel 14:33). Carcases is singular in the Hebrew, but is rightly translated plural, as it is used collectively. That all the earth may know, etc. As we saw on 1 Samuel 17:37, it was David's strong faith in Jehovah, and his conviction that God was fighting for him in proof of his covenant relation to Israel, that not only nerved him to the battle, but made Saul see in him one fit to be Israel's representative in so hazardous a duel.
1 Samuel 17:48, 1 Samuel 17:49
When the Philistine arose. Apparently he was seated, as was the rule with armies in ancient times when not engaged in conflict. When, then, he saw David emerge from the ravine, he rose, and, carrying his vast load of armour, moved slowly towards his enemy, trying to frighten him by his curses. David, meanwhile, in his light equipment, ran towards the army, Hebrew, "the rank," i.e. the Philistine line, in front of which Goliath had been sitting. As the giant's helmet had no visor, that protection not having as yet been invented, and his shield was still carried by his armour bearer, his face was exposed to David's missiles. And in those days, before firearms were invented, men by constant practice "could sling stones at a hair-breadth, and not miss" (Judges 20:16). And even if David were not quite as skilful as those Benjamites, yet, as the giant could move only very slowly, the chances were that he would hit him with one or more of his five pebbles. As it was, he struck him at his first attempt upon the forehead with such force that Goliath was stunned, and fell down upon his face to the ground.
1 Samuel 17:50, 1 Samuel 17:51
So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone. It is evident that the narrator regarded David's victory as extraordinary; and no doubt it required not only great courage, but also perfect skill, as only the lower portion of the forehead would be exposed, and on no other part of the giant's body would a blow have been of any avail. The narrator also calls attention to the fact that David relied upon his sling alone, for there was no sword in the hand of David. Slings probably were regarded as useful only to harass an enemy, while swords, which they had only lately been able to procure (1 Samuel 13:22), were regarded as the real weapons of offence. David, therefore, completes his victory by killing Goliath with his own sword as he lay stunned upon the ground. As Ahimelech considered it fit for David's own use (1 Samuel 21:9), it was probably not so monstrous in size as Goliath's other weapons. Champion is not the word so rendered in 1 Samuel 17:4, 1 Samuel 17:23, but that used in 1 Samuel 16:18 for "a hero of valour."
1 Samuel 17:52, 1 Samuel 17:53
To the valley. Hebrew, gai. As we have seen, there was a gai or ravine between the two armies, but in the Hebrew there is no article, and the Israelites must also cross this before any fighting began. The panic which struck the Philistines when they saw their champion fall enabled the Israelites to do so, but the pursuit only then commenced. The Septuagint reads Gath, a very probable emendation, for, as we saw in the passage quoted from Condor on 1 Samuel 17:2, Gath was situated at the mouth of the terebinth valley. The Syriac and Vulgate retain valley, but the former understands it of the mouth of the valley of Elah. Shaaraim was a town assigned to Judah (Joshua 15:36) in the Shephelah (see on 1 Samuel 17:1), but was now held by the Philistines. They spoiled their tents. More correctly, "their camp."
1 Samuel 17:54
David...brought it to Jerusalem. This is an anticipation of later history. The Jebusites at this time held Jerusalem; but when David had taken it from them, he removed the head of Goliath thither, and the narrator, following the usual custom of Hebrew historians, mentions the ultimate fate of this trophy here (see on 1 Samuel 16:21). He put his armour in his tent. I.e. he carried it to his home (see on 1 Samuel 2:35; 1Sa 4:10; 1 Samuel 13:2, etc.), where it became his private property. The mistranslation of camp by tents in 1 Samuel 17:53 might lead an English reader to suppose that it meant a tent in the camp of Israel; but most probably the men all slept under their wagons. Abravanel supposes that by David's tent was meant the tabernacle of Jehovah, but this would surely have been stated more fully. Either, however, now, or at some later period, David must have presented the sword as an offering to the tabernacle, as it was laid up at Nob, whence he took it with him in his flight (see 1 Samuel 21:9).
SAUL'S INQUIRY CONCERNING DAVID'S PARENTAGE (1 Samuel 17:55-58).
1 Samuel 17:55-58
Abner, whose son is this youth? Hebrew, "lad," na'ar. We have seen that the narrative in 1 Samuel 16:21-23 carries the history of David's relations with Saul down to a much later period, and that in 1 Samuel 16:15 of this chapter David is represented as not dwelling continuously at Saul's court, but as having returned to Bethlehem and resumed his pastoral occupations there, whence he would be summoned back in case of the recurrence of Saul's malady. It is plain from what is stated here that David had not thus far spent time enough at Gibeah to be personally well known either to Saul or his officers (see note on 1 Samuel 16:15). Stripling. Not na'ar, but 'alem, the masculine of the word 'almah, used in Isaiah 7:14. It means a young man fully grown, and arrived at the age to marry, and so is more definite than na'ar, which Saul uses in verse 58. As David returned, etc. Abner, as captain of the host, would naturally watch the combat, and as soon as it was possible would bring the young warrior into the king's presence. But what is recorded here could have taken place only after the pursuit of the Philistines was over, and really these five verses should be united with Isaiah 17:1-14; as their object is to introduce the account of the love. of Jonathan for David. Starting then with the inquiry made by the king of Abner, asking for fuller information as to the young man's parentage, the historian then tells how after the chase he was brought before Saul, and then, in 1 Samuel 18:1, that the result of their conversation was the warm love that henceforward knit together these two kindred souls.
1 Samuel 17:20-30
A religious man's view of things.
The facts are—
1. David arrives at the camp just as preparations are being made for battle.
2. While with his brethren he hears the defiance of Goliath, and observes the dismay of Israel.
3. Being informed of the inducement offered by Saul for any one to slay Goliath, he makes particular inquiries as to the facts, and suggests the vanity of the defiance.
4. His inquiries arouse the jealousy of Eliab, who imputes to him unhallowed motives.
5. Nevertheless, David persists in his attention to the matter. The pusillanimity of the entire army seems to have been accepted by Saul as quite reasonable in presence of such a foe. David's converse with the men revealed a remarkable unanimity of sentiment among them. Estimated by the ordinary maxims of war during times when brute force in individual conflict decided the day, there was, indeed, small chance for a dwarf against a giant. The embarrassment was great, natural, and irremovable. But from the moment of David's arrival this condition of things appeared to him unreasonable. Coming fresh from the fold, unfamiliar with the ordinary rules of armed warfare, and interpreting facts by principles acquired elsewhere than in the camp and among pusillanimous men, he marvelled at the dismay of Israel, and dared to be singular in his opinion that the giant was not to be dreaded. Events from a religious point of view assume a different aspect. Notice—
I. AN EMINENTLY RELIGIOUS MAN'S IMPRESSIONS OF FORMIDABLE DIFFICULTIES. David was at this time, in comparison with others, eminently religious. The facts of life impress us according to. sentiments and views already entertained. When, therefore, this devout, God-fearing youth looked on the conflict, he saw it with eyes full of religious light. He felt that the entire army was wrong in feeling and opinion. The principle holds good in other applications. The eminently religious get an impression of the world peculiar to their refined spiritual condition. The most conspicuous instance of this is in the case of the holy Saviour. Coming from the pure, loving sphere of heaven, more sweet and restful than David's rural pastures, how different would the earth, with its conflicts, cares, and woes, appear to him as compared with their impression on men! Holy men see the world with new eyes when they descend from some mount of transfiguration. No wonder if some highly purified and trustful souls, looking on the fear and inactivity of professed followers of Christ, are disgusted and ashamed at the lack of hope and confidence. If we have the "mind of Christ," fresh, pure, deep in conviction of God's all-wise and mighty will, toned with pity, and elevated by undying hope, we shall often get impressions of our surroundings which may make us singular, but which, nevertheless, will be just.
II. AN EMINENTLY RELIGIOUS MAN WILL NOT HESITATE TO INDICATE AND JUSTIFY HIS IMPRESSIONS. The clear, truthful eyes of the shepherd youth saw the world through a Divine medium, and, with all the sincerity of goodness and force of deep conviction, he was not afraid to let it be known that he differed from others. "Who is this Philistine?" He defy the "armies of the living God!" The fire burned; he could not but speak. To him it was a most abhorrent thought that any one could dare to assert his strength against God. It is obvious that David reduced. the whole situation to a question of first principles. He remembered who the Philistine was in the sight of God, and what the meaning of Israel's existence in the great purpose of redemption. The fear of Israel he referred to loss of faith in the people's mission to the world, and in God as the perfecter of that mission. Illustrations of the same course are elsewhere found. True religious enlightenment must express itself in some form. The holy cannot look on life and be silent. Our Saviour's words and deeds were largely the expression of the effect of man's condition upon his nature. It is especially important to remember this reference to first principles in their application to—
1. The sorrows and woes of mankind through sin. We cannot solve the mystery of evil, but can fall back on the primary truth that God is good and wise, and therefore his government in the end will be justified.
2. The prevalent habits of the world. We must not fail to trace them to radical alienation from God, and apply the only radical cure, renewal of nature by the Spirit of God.
3. The obstacles in the way of Christ's triumph. They are real as facts, but we must justify our faith in their removal by indicating their essentially transitory character in contrast with the "everlasting strength" of our God.
III. A RELIGIOUS MAN IN GIVING EFFECT TO HIS IMPRESSIONS MAY BE MISREPRESENTED. David's pure mind was charged with vanity and idle curiosity (1 Samuel 17:28). The accusation was the more painful in coming from a brother. Jealousy creates a jaundiced medium through which the holiest and most beautiful things appear hideous. A greater than David was also reviled, and his most holy and blessed words and deeds associated with the most wicked of origins (Mark 3:22; John 10:20). Pliny and Tacitus, judicious men of the world, could not appreciate the opinions and motives of the early Christians. Even now strong faith in God, and belief that all obstacles to the progress of Christianity will give way because essentially human, is regarded as fanaticism. Even among some professed believers in Christ those are held to be too sanguine who feel sure that the most formidable of modem giants is as nothing before the mighty power which somehow will sweep it away. Be it so; time will show.
1. Clearness of vision on religious matters, and indirectly on all, is a result of superior devoutness of spirit.
2. 'We never need fear being singular when sustained by a clear conscience and the approval of God.
3. The earnest convictions and simple faith of one man may, in the providence of God, work a revolution in popular thought.
4. We give value to our religious convictions when they are indicated with candour and are sustained by simplicity and purity of life.
5. A love of detraction and petty fault finding, while it does not really injure the devoted who are its object, debases those who indulge in them.
1 Samuel 17:31-37
Reasonable confidence in God.
The facts are—
1. David's words being reported to Saul, he sends for him.
2. David volunteers to go forth and fight the Philistine.
3. In justification of his confidence, he refers to God's deliverance of him from the lion and bear.
4. Saul bids him go, and desires for him the Lord's presence. It was doubtless a relief to Saul to be informed that at least there was one in Israel who dared to accept the Philistine's challenge. His surprise was equal to his relief, and may have lessened his hope, when he saw the stripling. The quiet confidence of David was natural and reasonable to himself, but evidently required some justification before Saul. The story Of the lion and bear was adduced, with beautiful simplicity of spirit, to indicate to Saul that the confidence cherished was amply warranted by past experience. To David's mind the logic was unanswerable. It is by tracing the mental process by which David rested in his firm conviction that we shall see the true ground of our confidence in God, when called by his providence to enter upon undertakings of a serious nature.
I. A PRIMARY TRUTH. The power of God is adequate to any human need. This general truth was the basis of David's reasoning. It was involved in his very conception of Jehovah, and found beautiful utterance in his language of later years. The power of the Eternal was not a mere philosophic idea requisite to complete the notion of God, but a living energy permeating all things. The ascription of natural changes and events immediately to God (Psalms 18:1-50.) is only the expression of a faith which sees the Divine energy in and through all things. The people at Elah, on seeing Goliath, thought of his strength. The reverse effect produced in the mind of David by Goliath's boast was the thought of the eternal power. The influence of general truths on our life is great—greater than some suppose. They lie deep down in the mind, and yet are ever at command to regulate thought and feeling, and to suggest lines of conduct. Hence those in whom they are most fresh and clear are persons of wider range of view, sounder judgment, and deeper convictions. It is important to have the mend well fortified with those general truths that relate to God; and, in view of the difficulties and dangers of life, it is well to keep clear the truth that in Jehovah is "everlasting strength."
II. AN EXPERIENCE. David referred to the experience he had had of the power of God in delivering him from the lion and bear while in the discharge of his life's calling. The Almighty hand had befriended him at a time when he put forth his own energies to subdue his dangerous enemies. Without having recourse to miracle in these cases, it is enough to notice that David recognises Divine aid in the putting forth of effort, and the primary truth had been translated into the experience of life: and so become strikingly verified. A fact is an unanswerable argument. The logic strengthens. Most of us can fall back on deliverances from lions and adders (Psalms 91:13). The mental record of the past furnishes a premiss on which to build an argument of hope for the future (2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Timothy 4:18).
III. A REVEALED FACT. David could not cherish the confidence he did without welding with his primary truth and personal experience the fact that the Almighty was always the same, and that, therefore, continuity in aid might be looked for. The unchangeableness of God was an assured fact, not from philosophic speculation on the necessary nature of the Supreme, but because made clear to the mind by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God," keeping covenant forever (Psalms 89:34). Therefore the argument from past experience of his power was, so far, available for conflict with a gigantic foe. The force of this revealed fact concerning the Divine Being is great. It gives our mind a resting place amidst the incessant flux of things. It opens up to view a rock on which we can stand calm and secure in face of all changes of earth. The frailty of our life seems a blessing in association with so precious a reality. As the uniformity in the laws of nature furnish a basis of wise calculation and confidence in action, so the unchanging power of God in relation to human need is a ground of hope and confidence in pursuit of legitimate objects.
IV. A PRESENT EMERGENCY. David found himself in presence of an emergency more trying than when lion and bear were confronted, for the interests were wide. He was too sensible a youth to imagine that the eternal power would be manifested because men desired it, whatever the occasion. But if aid was given formerly in real need, and now a need more pressing was felt, the argument of faith was conclusive. Moreover, the earlier occasions were private and personal; this was public, affecting the interests of Israel; and were not these the interests of him for whose advent Israel lived? The ruddy youth perhaps saw a connection between the overthrow of Goliath and the great kingdom of which he sang in Psalms 72:1-20. We have here a safe criterion of the reasonableness of confidence in God's aid. When an emergency arises which deeply affects the honour and safety of Christ's Church, and the diffusion of the blessings of his reign, we are warranted to cherish fullest confidence that God will help us in our endeavour, by such means as we possess, to meet the peril. Let Churches and individuals act by this rule, and they will never be disappointed. It is involved in the promise, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
V. A PROVIDENCE. The previously noticed elements in the ground of David's confidence were more influential from the fact that he did not force himself into the position, but was there by providential leading, in which he was quite passive. A man may at the last moment shrink from a dangerous work if conscious that he, by contrivance, sought it out; but when we are literally urged by circumstances into difficulties and dangers, and have a good cause in hand, then we may take the providence as an encouragement to go through. Providence led the apostles into conflict with rulers, and, hence, they dared to be confident.
VI. A PLEA. David could fortify his expectation of help by the plea that his heart was honest in intent. He sought not to fight the giant for love of fighting, for securing renown, for any private end, but for love to his people Israel and the honour of Israel's God. Purity of motive in ordinary life is no substitute for faith in Christ for acceptance with God; but it is a condition on which God grants his aid to us in our exertions. If we face gigantic evils, in themselves too great for our wisdom and strength, from an intense desire to conquer them for Christ, cherishing no vain personal ambition, then the highest confidence is justified. A power equal to our need, unchanged by time, realised in past experience, required for an emergency in which the honour of Christ is at stake, sought by one providentially led to face the difficulty, and desired not for vain reasons, but purely for the glory of God—such a process of thought places confidence in God's help on a most reasonable basis.
1. We should consider whether Providence has really given us arduous work to do for Christ.
2. Our wisdom is to go forth, not under the influence of the opinions of unspiritual men, but under the full force of our own religious convictions.
3. We must not expect to know in what way the power of God will work with us; the fact that it will is enough.
4. Success or failure in perilous enterprises for Christ depends much on the purity of motive, and this should receive prayerful attention.
1 Samuel 17:38-40
The facts are—
1. Saul clothes David with his armour.
2. David, distrusting its value, puts it aside.
3. He goes forth to the conflict armed only with a sling and a stone.
There is a curious blending of cowardice, prudence, and folly in Saul's conduct. Not daring to fight the foe, he hesitates not to accept a youth; and while providing ordinary armour for his defence, he fails to see that an armed youth would really be at a disadvantage with an armed giant. Apart from higher considerations, David's good sense shows him that free nimbleness would be of more value than limbs stiffened under a coat of mail. The gentle negation, "I have not proved them," covered a positive faith in other armour often proved. He would be David in the conflict, and no one else. The issue was staked on his perfect naturalness. He knew "in whom he believed," and was true to his own individuality. The teaching is wide and important in relation to—
I. EDUCATION. To be natural is one of the ends of education, and there is a naturalness in the means and process by which alone that and all the ends of education will be secured. While psychologically the sum of faculties is the same in all, the relative power of them may vary. Constitutional tendencies and tastes also greatly differ. The inherent capacity of certain faculties seems likewise to be affected by inheritance. Discrimination is therefore requisite in education, otherwise we may place a Saul's armour on a David, and encumber his mental movements. No doubt a weak faculty is benefited by being stimulated to work, and a deficient taste may be improved by exercise; but the apportionment of work to faculties and tastes should be regulated, not by some general average of minds, but by what will make the most of the idiosyncrasies of the individual. That educational training and equipment is natural which leaves the mind most free and effective. What is gained on one side by painful drudgery may be lost on another by embitterment and crippled talents. Especially in religious education is this important. Let us not clothe the mental nature of children with the forms suited to men. Probably much of the distaste for religious instruction springs from the perfect unsuitability of the form to the receptivity of the mind.
II. OCCUPATION. Success in any calling depends largely on the naturalness of it to the abilities, tastes, and aspirations of the employed. The Goliath of poverty and disappointment too frequently overpowers really good and able men, because their occupation, though good and useful in itself, is unnatural to them. In the pressure of life it is hard, no doubt, to find the proper place for each one; but more forethought on the part of parents and guardians would obviate some of the evils. The over crowding and eager race of men, trampling one another down in poverty, raises the thought whether these troubles are not the voice of Providence calling on men to spread abroad and cultivate the rich distant lands waiting for occupants. Naturalness of occupation and of manner is also desirable in works of charity and religion. Let not men be armed with powers and prerogatives out of accord with their mental and moral stature. Let not the youth of the Church, in their enthusiasm for Christ, be fettered by impositions that will nullify their zeal Nor let the immature assume functions for which ripe experience alone can qualify. The wise Church is that which takes cognisance of all its members, and finds out and encourages some sphere of Christian activity natural to the attainments and social position of each individual. Ministries may differ in style and be most natural—e.g. Paul and John.
III. SPIRITUAL CONFLICT. In one respect David's was a spiritual conflict. He discerned the great religious issues at stake, and the fitness of the means by which the battle was to be fought. For sweeping off from the earth a great foe of God's purpose in Israel, and, therefore, in Christ, he had not proved the armour of Saul, the unspiritual king; but he had proved other means of warfare suited to his individuality as a youth full of faith in God and enthusiasm for the golden age of the world. The man after God's own heart will not fight in the attire of the man who had lost faith in God. He must have freedom for such powers as are natural to himself, and that would give scope for his trust in God.
1. Is there not here a foreshadowing of a greater than David? Christ, in seeking to rid the earth of the giant foe of God's righteous government, sin, knows that men have been accustomed to contend with the evil by various appliances—philosophy, art, social and political organisation, repressive ordinances, commercial intercourse, and other agencies created for the preservation of society. There were men who hoped that he would adopt some of the ordinary appliances (John 6:15). But Christ worked out his mission on the line of his own individuality. Recognising organisations, and social laws, and ordinary knowledge as useful, he nevertheless struck at the root, not at the ramifications, of sin. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." "Make the tree good and his fruit good." And this he effects by the power of his holy life, of his self-sacrifice, and pure truth, brought to bear on the deepest springs of thought and volition by the mighty working of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 11:29; John 3:7; John 10:16-18; John 13:15; John 17:17; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Php 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 1 Peter 3:18).
2. We may also see here a parallel to our personal conflicts with evil. There are "carnal" weapons sometimes used for subjugation of evil, but the spiritual man knows of an "armour of God" (Eph John 7:11-17), often proved and never known to fail Both in our own hearts and in the world sin will be most surely overcome if we distrust mere accommodations to its nature and conformities to its methods, and use with all our free energy the spiritual power which comes of God. Christian naturalness lies in using Christian means—faith, prayer, truth, love, hope, and patience.
1 Samuel 17:41-51
The governing principle of life.
The facts are—
1. The Philistine, on observing the youth and simple weapons of David, disdains and curses him, and boasts of soon giving his flesh to bird and beast.
2. David, in reply, declares that he comes in the name of God, and expresses his assurance that, in the speedy death of his foe, all men would learn that the battle is the Lord's.
3. Goliath falls by means of the sling and stone.
4. Seizing his sword, David cuts off his head, whereon the Philistines flee. We may regard Goliath and David as representatives of two very distinct orders of character—the one serving as a foil to the other. The low human purpose, the boastful trust in human strength, and the vanity of gaining personal renown, on the one side, set off in bold relief the execution of a Divine purpose, the quiet trust in Divine strength, and the supreme desire to see God glorified, on the other side. "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied"—here is the great principle that governed David's conduct. "In the name of the Lord" did the stripling raise his voice, select his stones, and use his sling. Nor was this a mere accident in his life. A crisis may bring out into clear and bold expression the principle which governs a good man's life, bait it does not create it. "In the name of the Lord" was his motto when feeding the sheep, slaying the lion and bear, and composing the Psalms. Consider—
I. The NATURE AND RANGE OF THE GOVERNING PRINCIPLE OF a GOOD MAN'S LIFE. There are various mental acts entering into and lying at the spring of conduct—some more original than others. Life cannot be fully understood without an analysis of them and a recognition of their mutual relation. At one time a passion may be regarded as the governing principle—e.g. "The love of Christ constraineth us;" at another, supreme regard for right—e.g. "Do justly;" at another, obedience to a superior will—e.g. "Not my will, but thine be done." But these and others of kindred nature are in Scripture summarised in the beautiful formula, "In the name of the Lord." David's conduct brings this principle into triple forth.
1. The purpose of life is the purpose of God. That which God, by the revelations of his mercy and the ordinations of providence, is working out—the cutting off of evil and the establishment of righteousness—is the adopted and cherished purpose of life. In every calling, pursuit, enterprise, alliance, pleasure, secular or spiritual conflict, the true man goes forth "in the name of the Lord" to destroy the foe of God and man. He is conscious of a definite unity of purpose, and wills that it be identical with the one purpose of God.
2. The power trusted to is the power of God. The Lord in whose name David went forth "sayeth not with sword and spear." The stripling did not expect Goliath to fall down dead while he lay at rest in his tent, but be went forth using those means natural to him as a youth, and this too because of the unseen hand which taught "his fingers to fight." God's strength is not a vast reserve locked up for use on some far distant day, when some new system of worlds has to be created, any more than that it has been all poured forth into laws and forces now acting. The Eternal Spirit is eternally strong, and as a Spirit is in such contact with us that, by placing ourselves in a certain attitude of loving trust, we receive from him according to our need.
3. The glory sought is that of the Lord. The motive of David was not to become notorious among men, not to promote some private advantage, but that "all the earth might know that there is a God in Israel." Here the stripling warrior was governed by the same reference to God as was recognised by the Apostle Paul when he said, "Do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). This abnegation of self, this joy in the honour of the holy name, this ambition to see men bowing in reverence to the Lord of all, enters into the private and public, the secular and spiritual, works of the renewed man. See the beautiful and impressive language of saints of different ages (2 Samuel 22:33, 2 Samuel 22:35; 2Ch 32:7, 2 Chronicles 32:8; Psalms 20:5; Psalms 63:4; Psalms 115:1; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Hebrews 11:32-34).
II. The TRUE GOVERNING PRINCIPLE OF LIFE IS NOT UNDERSTOOD BY THOSE WHO ARE NOT UNDER ITS INFLUENCE. Goliath, judging others by the principles that governed his own conduct, disdained David: his abusive language shows that he had no conception of the nature of the inspiration that made the stripling so cool and brave. Some men live in a world not penetrated even by the vision of others. Spheres of life come into collision, but do not intersect. The scorn and contempt of the ungodly is a common fact (Psalms 123:4; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 4:13). Christ and his apostles were treated with contempt, and their design of subduing the world was, and still is, by some referred to madness. Ridicule of prayer, of missions to savage men, of expectation of Christ's gospel being accepted by all, still abounds. Are not the people "few," the means contemptible—out of harmony with the age, and opposed to the principles of physical science? It is the old story of a boastful Goliath. It is the same revelation of profound ignorance. Verily, if there were no more in Christian men than in their foes, the conflict would soon be settled (2 Corinthians 4:4).
III. The TRIUMPH OF THE OUTWORKING OF THE TRUE GOVERNING PRINCIPLE OF LIFE IS ASSURED. David was sure that on that very day his foe would fall, and so illustrate the supremacy of the good man's principle. Events confirmed the truth. The issue of the great conflict between Christ's Church and opposing forces of evil is thus foreshadowed. We may go forth with the same assurance that at the end of the world's great day of battle we shall be in a position to say, "Now thanks be unto God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ" (2Co 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15:57, 1 Corinthians 15:58). The same result may be looked for in respect of our own personal conflicts with sin; for though we may be weak, and pained by the scorning of the proud, yet, using our sling and stone in the strength of God, it will be found at last that we are "more than conquerors." And this, which applies to life as a whole, is of equal force in respect to any form of vice or moral evil we contend with day by day (Psalms 44:6, Psalms 44:7; Micah 7:8).
1. The continued boasting of the enemies of Christianity is an illustration of its spiritual nature and the truth of its predictions (2 Peter 3:3).
2. The great need for Christians is to rise to the height of their powers and privileges as soldiers of Christ (1 Corinthians 16:13).
3. Every triumph achieved for Christ over sins, or individuals, or obstacles is a pledge of coming victories.
1 Samuel 17:52-58
Unknown and yet well known.
The facts are—
1. Stimulated by the exploit of David, the people complete their victory over the Philistines.
2. David leaves his weapons in his tent and carries Goliath's head to Jerusalem.
3. During the conflict Saul inquires who David was, but obtains no information, till, on presentation, David declares himself to be the son of Jesse. The summary of events here given brings out incidentally a fair illustration of general truths.
I. MULTITUDES ARE INSPIRED TO VIGOROUS ACTION BY THE INFLUENCE OF INDIVIDUAL HEROISM. The force of David's character passed beyond the death of Goliath: it infused fear into the Philistines and aroused the spirit of his countrymen. In this stimulating power we have one of the prime qualities of true leadership. The value of our actions lies much in this moral force. One of the difficulties of conflict in a good cause is to arouse enthusiasm, nourish courage, and incline men to exchange their lethargy for action. In the cause of Christ we have need to pray that he would raise up men fitted, by their heroic spirit, to arouse the slumbering energies of his people.
II. FORMER FRIENDS REAPPEAR UNDER A NEW GUISE. The stripling who befriended Saul in his military difficulties was the same as comforted him in his private sorrows. The deft fingers that once drew sweet music from the harp now used the stone that brought Saul's enemy to the earth. This was the second of the many acts of kindness rendered by the future to the present king, though Saul recognised not his quondam comforter under the new guise of chivalry. It is a happy circumstance when a man can enrich others by the exercise of diverse and unlooked for gifts, even when not recognised. By such merciful providences does God sometimes mitigate the misfortunes even of the undeserving.
III. THERE IS SOMETIMES IGNORANCE IN HIGH PLACES OF PERSONS AND QUALITIES WORTH KNOWING. For some time David had, next to Samuel, been the most beautiful character in Israel. This is a just inference from his choice and anointing by Samuel, the sweet charm of his music and song, his noble endurance of Eliab's base imputation (1 Samuel 17:28, 1 Samuel 17:29), the simple story of the lion and bear, the tone of his address to Goliath, and the entire spirit displayed through the day. If moral and high spiritual qualities are of greatest permanent value to a nation, then David was, next to Samuel, Israel's greatest benefactor. And yet Saul and his officers knew him not. Concerned with the arm of flesh and the framework of national life, great authorities are often unaware of the presence of persons most important on account of their elevation of character. This will ever be true until the time comes when moral and spiritual considerations have their proper place in the councils of kings and princes. But though "unknown" in earthly courts, the holy and Christly have their record in the court of heaven, and are held in everlasting remembrance by him who delighteth in his saints and guards them as the apple of his eye.
1. We should pray God that the spirit of his chosen servants may become more prevalent in the Church.
2. If our goodness is real, it will find out new forms of manifestation, and not refrain because men see not the personality that blesses.
3. It may be useful to foster courage and hope for future conflicts in life by a frequent reminder of past victories, for the giant's head in Jerusalem was not without moral intent.
4. It will be an encouragement to constancy in goodness to remember that while "unknown" we are "well known" (2 Corinthians 5:9).
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 17:19-31. (THE VALLEY OF ELAH.)
"What have I now done? Is there not a cause?" (1 Samuel 17:29. 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" (1 Samuel 17:24). 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. (Psalms 141:3).
4. Continued and steadfast adherence to a noble purpose. David went on talking. after the same manner" (1 Samuel 17:30). 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" (1 Samuel 17:31).
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.
1 Samuel 17:32-37. (THE VALLEY OF ELAH.)
Faith's argument from experience.
"He will deliver me out of the hand of the Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:37). Many things tend to hinder the exercise and work of faith. Some of them arise from the heart itself. Others arise from the speech and conduct of other people. Such was the scornful reproach cast upon David by his eldest brother, and such the cold distrust with which he was at first regarded by Saul. But as he had doubtless overcome his own tendency to unbelief by recalling what God had done, so now by the same means he overcame the unbelief of the king, and excited his confidence and hope. "Let no man's heart fail," etc. (1 Samuel 17:32). "Thou art not able," etc. (1 Samuel 17:33). But "there was that in the language of this youth which recalled the strength of Israel, which seemed like the dawn of another morning, like the voice from another world" (Edersheim). "And Saul said unto David, Go, and Jehovah be with thee" (1 Samuel 17:37); thus displaying one of the best features of character he possessed after his rejection. We have here—
I. AN EXPERIENCE of great deliverances.
1. Consisting of accomplished facts. "Thy servant kept his father's sheep," etc. (1 Samuel 17:34, 1 Samuel 17:35). They were not imaginary, but real events.
2. Occurring in personal history, and therefore the more certain and deeply impressed on the mind. How full is every individual life of instructive providential occurrences, if we will but observe them.
3. Wrought by a Divine hand. "The Lord that delivered me," etc. (1 Samuel 17:37). Where unbelief perceives nothing but chance and good fortune a devout spirit sees "him who is invisible;" and the extraordinary success which the former attributes to man the latter ascribes to God.
4. Treasured up in a grateful memory. "Therefore will I remember thee," etc. (Psalms 42:6; Psalms 77:10, Psalms 77:11). Experience is the collection of many particulars registered in the memory."
II. AN ARGUMENT for strong confidence. The argument—
1. Rests upon the unchangeableness of God, and the uniform method of his dealings. "The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent" (1 Samuel 16:1-29). Hence every instance of his help is an instruction and a promise, inasmuch as it shows the manner in which lie affords his aid, and gives assurance of it under like conditions. "Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice" (Psalms 63:7; Psalms 27:9). "This was a favourite argument with David. He was fond of inferring future interpositions from past. And the argument is good, if used cautiously and with just discrimination. It is always good if justly applied. The difficulty is in such application. The unchangeable God will always do the same things in the same circumstances. If we can be certain that cases are alike we may expect a repetition of his conduct" (A.J. Morris).
2. Recognises similarity between the circumstances in which Divine help has been received and those in which it is expected, viz,
(1) in the path of duty;
(2) in conflict with an imposing, powerful, and cruel adversary;
(3) in a state of perilous need;
(4) in the exercise of simple trust;
(5) in the use of appropriate means;
(6) and in seeking the honour of God.
When there is so close a resemblance the argument is readily applied, and its conclusion irresistible.
3. Regards the help formerly received as a pledge of personal favour, and an encouragement to expect not only continued, but still greater, benefits from him whose power and love are measureless. "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion; and the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work," etc. (2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Corinthians 1:10).
"Man's plea to man is that he never more
Will beg, and that he never begged before:
Man's plea to God is that he did obtain
A former suit, and therefore sues again.
How good a God we serve, that, when we sue,
Makes his old gifts the examples of his new"
4. Is confirmed in practice as often as it is faithfully tested, and increases in force, depth, and breadth with every fresh experience of Divine help. "Oh, were we but acquainted with this kind of reasoning with God, how undaunted we should be in all troubles! We should be as secure in time to come as for the time past; for all is one with God. We do exceedingly wrong our own souls and weaken our faith by not minding God's favours. How strong in faith might old men be that have had many experiences of God's love if they would take this course! Every former mercy should strengthen our faith for a new, as conquerors whom every former victory encourageth to a new conquest" (Sibbes, 'Works,' 1:320).—D.
1 Samuel 17:38-54. (EPHES-DAMMIM.)
David's conflict with Goliath.
"So David prevailed" (1 Samuel 17:50).
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 (1 Samuel 17:38-40).
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" (1 Samuel 17:39). 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. (1 Samuel 17:40)—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 (1 Samuel 17:41-48).
1. Humility. His heart was not haughty and proud (Psalms 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. "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" (1 Samuel 17:45; 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 (1 Samuel 17:43), and the name of Jehovah blasphemed, and he was desirous above all things that he should be glorified. "All the earth shall know," etc. (1 Samuel 17:46). "All this assembly shall know," etc. (1 Samuel 17:47). 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. (1 Samuel 17:48, 1 Samuel 17:49, 1 Samuel 17:51). "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 (1 Samuel 17:51), and their power was broken (1 Samuel 17:52).
2. Israel was imbued with a new and better spirit (1 Samuel 17:52, 1 Samuel 17:53).
3. He himself was honoured—by God in giving him the victory and opening before him a wider sphere of activity, by the king (1 Samuel 17:55-58; 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.
1 Samuel 17:47
The battle is the Lord's.
Many of the battles which are waged on earth are not the Lord's. They are unnecessary and unrighteous. The end they seek and the means they adopt to attain it are evil. Other conflicts are only the Lord's in an inferior sense. Although not unnecessary, nor in themselves unrighteous, they are waged with secular aims and carnal weapons. But there is one which is the Lord's in the highest sense. It is a holy war; a conflict of the kingdom of light with the kingdom of darkness. Observe that—
1. The obligation is imposed by the Lord. "Fight the good fight of faith."
2. The adversaries are the adversaries of the Lord. "Principalities and powers," etc.
3. The soldiers are the people of the Lord. Those in whose hearts the principles of the kingdom of God are implanted—"righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
4. The Commander is the Anointed of the Lord. "The Captain of our salvation." "The Leader and Commander of the people."
5. The weapons are provided by the Lord. "Put on the whole armour of God"—"the armour of light."
6. The success is due to the Lord. He gives the strength which is needed: "teacheth our hands to war, and our fingers to fight," and "he will give you into our hands."
7. The end is the glory of the Lord. When it is over God will be "all in all." "Who is on the Lord's side?"—D.
1 Samuel 17:29, 1 Samuel 17:37-39, 1 Samuel 17:45 1 Samuel 17:47
Three victories in one day.
Here the history assumes the charm of romance, and David stands forth a hero above all Greek and Roman fame. By the grace of God he won three victories in quick succession.
1. Over the spirit of auger. When David, shocked to see all Israel defied and daunted by one Philistine, showed his feeling to the men that stood by him, his eldest brother, Eliab, sneered at him openly, and taunted him with being fit only to keep sheep, or to look at battles which others fought. Probably this ungracious brother had not forgiven David for being preferred before him in the day when Samuel visited the house of Jesse; probably too he was conscious that it was the duty of some such tall soldier as himself to encounter the Philistine champion, and he was ashamed and irritated because he was afraid to fight. So he vented his ill-humour in a most galling and insulting reproach, hurled at his stripling brother. His words might have provoked a sharp retort. But David was in a mood of feeling too exalted to descend to wrangling. He was forming a purpose, at once patriotic and pious, which he saw that Eliab was unfit to appreciate, and therefore made a calm and mild reply: "What have I now done? It was only a word;" q.d. "I may surely ask a question." Thus the hero ruled his own spirit; was master of himself before he mastered others; had that disinclination and disdain for paltry quarrels which belongs to men who cherish high and arduous aims; and David's first triumph was the triumph of meekness.
2. Over the precautions of unbelief. When the youth was led to the king, and in his presence offered to fight with the Philistine, he was told that he was not old or strong enough for the encounter. When a tried soldier of lofty stature like Saul himself shrank from the combat, how could this stripling attempt it? It was certain death. David was not shaken from his purpose. He showed the king that his trust was in God, and that the remembrance of past encounters with wild beasts when the Lord delivered him made him confident of victory over the giant. Then Saul said, "Go, and the Lord be with thee." Perhaps he said it from a mere habit of using such phrases, perhaps with a melancholy feeling that from himself the Lord had departed. But he had so much consideration for the brave youth before him as to put his own armour on him, and gird him with his own sword. It may seem strange that he did not assign to him a suit of armour more suited to his size; but there was little armour of any kind among the Israelites, and none so good as that of the king. It was well meant, but it was a sign of unbelief. Saul could not trust in God to defend this young champion, but would cover him with a brazen helmet and a coat of mail. David, however, happily for himself, put off the armour. It only encumbered his body, taking away his native nimbleness of movement, and it tended to weaken in his mind that total faith in God and sense of dependence on him which was more to him in such a field than even the armour of a king. Thrice was he armed who had his quarrel just, and the living God for his refuge and strength.
3. Over the proud blasphemer. Goliath was a terrible opponent in a time when gunpowder as yet was not, and prowess in the field depended on size, strength, and armour. No one dared to accept his challenge; and as he stalked along the valley he scoffed at the men of Israel with impunity. It was a prodigy of courage on the part of a youth like David—however strong and active, not above the customary height of men—to assail that moving tower of brass. But it was no blind fanaticism, such as despises caution and skill, and disowns the use of fit means, as though implying a want of faith. David's faith made him use his utmost care and dexterity, trusting in God to give him a sure aim and a quick victory. It is quite a mistake to dwell on the simplicity of David in going forth to the combat with a weapon so unlikely, so inadequate, as a sling. On the contrary, he would have shown not simplicity only, but folly, if he had trusted to sword and spear. If he were to strike the giant at all, it must be from a distance, and not with weapons held in the hand; for Goliath's long arm and long spear would never have let him near enough to inflict a blow. So David shrewdly took the sling, with which he was familiar, and picked from the bed of the brook a few pebbles which would pass through the air like bullets. The sling was in fact the rifle of the period, and men who practised the art could make their bull's eyes with this weapon as well as our modern rifle shooters, though not at so great distances. The giant, seeing the shepherd's staff in David's hand, and probably not perceiving the thong of the sling, demanded whether he was regarded as a dog, that might be beaten with a stick. Then he loudly defied the rash boy who ventured to meet him in combat, and cursed him by his own heathen god. Back across the valley went the noble answer of Jehovah's servant. "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied." Then came the terrible moment, and both armies "held their breath for a time." David made the attack. Nimbly he ran forward to be within shot. Goliath had opened the visor of his helmet to look at the foe whom he despised, and to shout defiance. Thus was his forehead exposed. David's quick eye saw the advantage; he slipped a pebble into the sling, and let it fly. A sharp whistle in the air, and the stone sunk into the giant's haughty brow. "He fell on his face to the earth." How the men of Israel shouted as they heard the clang of his heavy armour on the ground, and saw their young champion cut off the boaster's head with his own sword! Then it was the turn of the Philistines to fear and to flee; and the Israelites pursued them, and "spoiled their tents." So one man gained three battles in a day, and thousands reaped the advantage of his victories. Is not this what we have under the gospel? One who was born in Bethlehem, but in whom his own brethren did not believe, is our Deliverer and the Captain of our salvation. Jesus overcame provocation by his meekness and lowliness of heart. He overcame all temptation to unbelief and self-will by his perfect trust in God his Father. He also overcame that strong adversary who had long defied and daunted the people of God, and had lifted up the name of false gods on the earth, blaspheming him who is true. This enemy seemed to stride to and fro in the earth, and boast himself against the Lord with impunity. But the Son of David has bruised the enemy's head, laid low his pride, and now thousands and tens of thousands enter into his victory and shout his praise. To David belonged the honours of the day. Jonathan loved him. All Israel extolled him. So let us love and praise him who has won for us a greater victory and a richer spoil. We thank victorious generals, we decorate valiant soldiers, we raise statues and trophies to national champions. But, in truth, the country which they have saved is their real monument, the nation which they rescue from oppression or danger is the true and lasting pillar of their fame. So is it in regard to the Captain of our salvation. Words and offerings for his cause are insufficient for his praise. The Church of the redeemed is his monument. All whom he has saved out of the enemy's hand are to the praise of his glory. "Hosanna to the Son of David; hosanna in the highest!"—F.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany