Back to The Sheep
* FIRST ARTICLE IN A SERIES ON THE LIFE OF DAVID
David! The very mention of his name will captivate the mind of any Jewish person. This shepherd-king is the hero of Israel. Every Jewish mother would love to have a son like him. Did he not take a scattered tribal people and from them build a strong nation? Did he not raise them to prosperity? What a day it was when he took Zion from the Jebusites, brought in the ark of the covenant and made Jerusalem the capital of Israel. He was a great warrior. He was their king!
This same hero-king was also a shepherd. Much of his early life was spent tending his father’s flocks. It must have been during some of those lonesome nights that David spent long hours in precious communion with his Lord. He learned to call the Lord his Shepherd. He had fellowship with his Lord as few other men did.
There is no other person declared by God to be “a man after mine own heart” (Acts 13:22).
Seventy-five of the Psalms bear the inscription of his name. The very name David means beloved. No other person is called beloved by God, except His Son, Jesus. David had that intimate personal relationship with God that all of us would long to have. Even though at times he sinned grievously, he knew how to come to God in repentance and get right with Him. Certainly, as we would search out how to live our lives before God, we should surely drink deeply of this man’s life.
THE CHOICE OF SAUL TO BE KING
During the time of the judges, the people of Israel lived a yo-yo existence. When a judge was in authority, there was spiritual direction and guidance. When there was none, they fell apart. Also, when they had a judge, they knew victory over their enemies. When they didn’t, they suffered defeat.
This led the people to continually beg God for a king. The climax of this cry came when Samuel had grown old. He had made his evil sons judges over Israel. The people did not want them. They pleaded with God for a king. Samuel was so upset that he cried out in prayer to the Lord concerning this matter. The Lord’s answer was clear. He would grant them their desire, but in so doing He said, “. . . they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). They would rather have a king and be like all the other nations of the world than be obedient to the Lord.
Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, was the one chosen by God. Samuel poured the oil over him to anoint him. He became their first king. During the course of his reign he was disobedient to the Lord. For one thing, he overstepped his bounds and offered a sacrifice. This was the privilege of the priest, not the king. He was told, “But now thy kingdom shall not continue. The Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people . . .” (1 Sam. 13:14).
Furthermore, in battle Saul was told to destroy the Amalekites. He disobeyed God’s direct command and spared Agag, their king, as well as the spoils of battle. “. . . Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Sam. 15:23). Saul was finished as king. God would raise up another to take his place.
THE CHOICE OF DAVID TO BE KING
Again, Samuel was commissioned to go and anoint another king. His clear instructions from God led him to Bethlehem. The new king would not only be from this town, but would be from a specific family, that of Jesse (1 Sam. 16:1).
In obedience to the Lord, Samuel traveled to that little Judean village. He gathered the elders as well as Jesse and his family for a sacrifice. One by one the sons passed before Samuel. Surely, it would be EIiab, but it wasn’t. Neither was it Abinadab or Shammah. Four more sons passed before Samuel, but none of them was to be king.
Aren’t there any more? asked Samuel. Well, there’s the youngest. He is so young. I left, him tending the sheep. Go get him, was the reply.
David must have been somewhat perplexed as he was brought in from the fields. As he stood before his father and the elders of his hometown, Samuel stepped up. He carefully looked him over, waiting for the Lord to clearly direct him. “And the Lord said. Arise, anoint him; for this is he” (1 Sam. 16:12). God had chosen David, the young shepherd lad, to be king of Israel.
In faithful obedience to God’s command, Samuel slowly lifted the horn of oil prepared for the anointing. Swiftly, he removed the cap and tilted that horn over the head of David. The oil covered those curly locks, ran down his face to his shoulders, then over his body and clothes. God had chosen this shepherd lad of Bethlehem to be His ruler over His people Israel.
To seal God’s choice and anointing, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day onward” (1 Sam. 16:13). He was not only commissioned to be king, but he was empowered to serve as God had called him. He was God’s man for that day.
Back to the Sheep
You would think that David should have jumped right in as king. After all, he had been anointed for that position. But this did not happen. Well, at least he should be in the king’s court. Surely he needed to learn how to fulfill the office to which he had been called.
This was not what the Lord had in mind for David’s further training. He was destined to get his schooling back with the sheep. Illogical? Foolish? Why waste time with the sheep? However, when you really think it through, it was probably the best training he could have had. Sheep are so much like people. They are stubborn, rebellious, easily led astray and hard to care for. As the Lord prepared David for his future, the best training possible was back with his father’s sheep. Royalty, God’s anointed, His servant, had to spend countless hours tending those sheep to prepare for God’s service.
How thrilling! There would one day come the Son of David, royal deity Himself, who would spend nearly thirty years in obscurity in the carpenter’s shop, and minister for just three to three and one-half years. It is fitting, then, that David’s training should be with the sheep for an extended period of time.
Soon after the anointing of David and the coming of the Spirit of the Lord upon him, a uniquely strange phenomenon happened to Saul. “. . . an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” (1 Sam. 16:14-16, 23). Saul was terribly upset. His court servants suggested they find a man that could skillfully play the harp. Perhaps the soothing music would quiet his troubled soul. Saul agreed to this plan.
I have just the man, said one servant. He had heard an accomplished harpist with an unusually sweet spirit. Where was he? Not in the music hall of fame, not on a stage, not in any place of prominence. No! He was down near Bethlehem tending his father’s sheep. He was out in God’s school of preparation for his service.
Saul sent orders to Bethlehem for this one, David, to come. He was summoned from the sheep to the palace of the king. Now God’s anointed king was in the palace with the rejected King Saul. Amazingly, Saul loved him. He was appointed to be his armor-bearer. Furthermore, whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David was called on. The playing of his instrument refreshed Saul, and the evil spirit left him.
Apparently, soon after this, Saul left the palace and went out to fight. Israel’s persistent enemies, the Philistines, were at it again. The armies were pitched at the time in the valley of Elah. Goliath challenged the Israelites. His cry was, Let some Israelite fight me. Whoever wins will have the victory.
When Saul left the city and went to do battle with these Philistines, David went back to Bethlehem (1 Sam. 17:15). This king-designate had to leave the court of Saul for more preparation. It was back to the sheep and the pasture. The Lord was not yet ready for him to lead His people. He still had to lead the sheep for yet another period of time.
For forty days Israel cowed while Goliath and the Philistines challenged Saul and the armies of Israel. The situation was desperate. It looked as though there was no hope. Surely this mighty man, Goliath, and this rugged, well-disciplined army could easily defeat the puny army of Saul. After all, the Philistines had the best-trained army of the day. There was no way these farmers and villagers of Israel could win in a battle against such might. But, they had forgotten the might of their God.
Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem, David was tending his father’s sheep. David’s three older brothers were out on the battlefield with Saul. Jesse called David in from the sheep to take some food to his brothers at the battlefront. Having delivered the food to the “mess sergeant,” David greeted his brothers. While with them, David heard Goliath as he challenged the armies of Israel once again. He saw the soldiers of Saul flee from before him.
What are we going to do about this man? David asked. “. . . who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26). I will fight him (1 Sam. 17:32). They laughed at David and mocked him, for he was but a youth.
David’s mind immediately went back to his training and preparation. His preparation had been back with the sheep. Had not his Heavenly Father prepared him there for all the situations of life?
And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock; And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth. And when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said, moreover. The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee (1 Sam. 17:34-37).
David did not go in his own strength or even with the armament of Saul. He went in the power of the Lord. “. . . Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield; but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee . . .” (1 Sam. 17:45-46a).
You remember the story well. You learned the outcome in Sunday school. The battle was the Lord’s. The very tools David had learned to use while tending his father’s flocks were those used in battle. The real victory came from the Lord. David, though still very young, had learned to trust Him while tending those flocks. His experience with the sheep had taught him well. Going back to the sheep for training carried David when the crisis came.
When the battle was concluded and the victory won, Saul sought to find out whose son this young hero of Israel was. Learning that David was the son of Jesse, he “. . . took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house” (1 Sam. 18:2). His days of going back to the sheep were over. The satanic forces had been routed for a time.
David had found immediate favor with Saul. He was soon put in charge of soldiers. He was well received by Saul’s leaders as well as all the people. The people rejoiced in the victory and were soon singing the praises of the brilliant, handsome, young Jewish hero.
As you well remember, Saul’s joy was soon turned to sorrow. Instead of rejoicing in what God had done, his heart was troubled. Saul became angry. His spirit was full of envy. His soul burned within him. Fear filled his mind. If Satan could not win in battle, he would try another approach. He would work on Saul, that his relationship with David be broken. He would use the very king of Israel to destroy David.
Motivated by his pent-up emotion, Saul took his javelin and thrust it at David. He missed! Two times he tried to kill David but failed to hit him. Fearing him, Saul got David out of his presence by making him a leader over 1,000 troops.
David was rejected by Saul. Now, instead of being in the presence of the king, the next phase of David’s life would be spent as a fugitive. It would not be Israel’s enemy that would seek to destroy this valiant and godly young man, but the very king himself. Much of what David learned with the sheep, God would use to protect him through this next phase of his life.
David probably spent many years with the sheep. It would stand him in good stead all the days of his life. In those long, lonely hours of the blackest midnight he learned to trust the Lord. There was no one else there to watch over him and protect him.
David learned much with those sheep. To be a leader he had to be trained. He had to go to God’s school. His case is not unique in the Scriptures. Moses learned the same way. After growing up in Pharaoh’s court, God took him at age 40 and sent him out to the backside of the desert to tend Jethro’s flock. His training would take another 40 years before he could lead the people.
Is it any wonder both David and Moses learned this way? David, in later years, would look back and write, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). He had to learn this through experience. One day the very Messiah, King of Israel, came on the scene and said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11).
Oh, fellow sheep, how important it is to know that Shepherd. Then, knowing Him, it is so important for us to go “back to the sheep.” We need to spend our lives learning from the great Shepherd of the sheep, so that in some small way we might be able to honor and serve Him.