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Even though the title of the book suggests otherwise, this story is really about David. And there's good reason for that. He's a pretty impressive guy. Here's the bulleted rundown:
David, even as a child, is a people pleaser. He's humble, talented, and strong in his faith. And those are qualities we just so happen to look for in our leaders. Funny how that works. So when Samuel the prophet comes to Bethlehem looking for a king, he didn't have to look any further than David the shepherd boy (16:11-13).
All those kingly qualities? They don't change one lick throughout 1 Samuel. Sure, David grows up a bunch—transforming from lowly shepherd boy to would-be King, but his character stays consistent throughout. Whether a boy of twelve or a man on a thrown, he is always humble, talented, and strong in his faith to God. David is the type of man we all look for in a leader: consistent, intelligent, honorable, and decisive. Hmm. Just what Israel needs, no?
Once Samuel pulls his ninja-anointing on David, the shepherd boy is whisked off to Saul's palace to be his evil spirit musical soother. It's not the greatest job in the world, but hey, the guy knows his way around a lure. And Saul is so taken by David, the boy is made armor-bearer, which is rather like a squire. Basically he gets to follow Saul around and do his bidding. David enjoys this job very much, slowly composing psalms as he spends time with Saul (16:14-23).
If this all sounds a little strange, given what we know about David's secret future on the throne, well, it is.
The relationship that Saul begins with David is an interesting one. Whereas Saul rules in human terms and doesn't see the need to obey God's rules (15:1-35), David places all emphasis and importance on God (16:11-13), which is maybe what makes him more fit to be king. And although there is mutual respect between these two, the paranoia and corrupt nature of Saul spoiled any hope of a peaceful coexistence. Much like friendship between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, it was doomed to fail from the beginning.
When the Philistine champion, Goliath, proposes a one-on-one battle with an Israelite solider to determine the outcome of the war, David is the only man (okay, boy) brave enough to accept the challenge. You might take this as a depressing message about the sad lack of courage among the average Israelites, but we're thinking this is more meant to emphasize just how special (and therefore kingly) young David is.
And it only gets more impressive from there. Using his quick wits and crafty skills, David tricks Goliath into thinking he's only going to attack with a shepherd's staff. David, unknown to the giant, has a sling hidden behind his back. As Goliath charges, David whips a stone from the sling, hurdling it into Goliath's skull. The giant falls down dead, but to be sure, David cuts off his head with the giant's sword (17:1-54).
What a moment, right?
The battle between David and Goliath is arguably one of the most famous of biblical stories. Goliath, the symbol of human power and force, loses to David, the symbol of human spirituality and prayer. Whereas Goliath is dressed to the nines in his armor, David faces him with nothing but a stick and a sling. David relies on the power of God and prayer to shield him from harm (17:38-41). Goliath, almost rightly so, laughs at this gesture, but isn't it interesting that the man who embodies human physicality is the one that ends up with a stone in his skull?
This showdown could also be read as a lesson to Saul: don't overthink things or your brain will become a rock... yes, we know that was a bad pun. Would you have preferred: don't overthink things or you'll lose your head? We crack ourselves up.
After David's victory over Goliath, the shepherd king becomes insanely popular around Israel. This causes Saul to become paranoid about the throne, which sets in motion years and years of attempts on David's life. Seriously. It goes on forever. David and Saul's relationship becomes an awful lot like that of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, or the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, you can choose your favorite.
But let's not forget that on two different occasions David spares Saul's life (24:1-22, 26:1-25), never giving into the dark side. What kind of man saves the life of someone trying to kill him? Well, either a really big idiot, or a really noble king-to-be. David, of course, is the latter.
In fact, David is really evoking one of the greatest leadership qualities of all time: mercy. Through every action David takes as a young man, he is trying to become in likeness to God who is the embodiment of mercy and love. Even though Saul is a complete idiot and should never be trusted, David's kindness spares the sorrowful king his life—twice. This, Shmoopers, is a good king.